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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Application by the Department of City Planning (DCP) for a Citywide Zoning Text Amendment - Hotels Special Permit

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, June 10, 2021, the following resolution passed with a vote of 35 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, The Department of City Planning (DCP) proposes a citywide zoning text amendment, (ZTA), to establish a new special permit under the jurisdiction of the City Planning Commission (CPC) for new hotels, motels, tourist cabins and boatels in C1, C2, C4, C5, C6, C8 and Mixed-Use (MX) districts (the Proposed Action), to create a more consistent zoning framework for new hotels; and.

WHEREAS, The stated purpose and goal of the proposal is to create a more consistent zoning framework for new hotels, to address conflicts with nearby commercial, industrial and residential uses that new transient uses may introduce, and to avoid potential for hotel development to impair future use and development of areas around a new hotel; and

WHEREAS, the Proposed Zoning Text Amendment would create a new special permit for hotel development citywide; and

WHEREAS, It is intended to create a consistent framework for hotel development and ensure that hotels do not negatively affect the surrounding area; and

WHEREAS,  DCP Division of Housing and Economic Development is spearheading this proposed action; and

WHEREAS, By 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, NYC experienced record growth in the tourism industry and its hotel room construction pipeline; and

WHEREAS, Visitor trends peaked in 2019 with 67M visitors/year, up from 46M in 2009 and visitor count was forecasted to increase even more in 2020 to 69M and absent the pandemic, there was a consistent and substantial growth in the number of tourists visiting NYC; and

WHEREAS, With regard to the supply of hotel rooms, the total number of rooms grew from 80K in 2009 to 128K in 2019 and in the past five years, the city saw a 40% increase in the hotel room inventory; and

WHEREAS, Pre-COVID-19, NYC hotel occupancy rates were among the highest for urban markets in the country, with the growth in the NYC hotel market driven by international and domestic travelers coming to visit NYC cultural offerings, shopping, site-seeing, and overall tourism for 86% of people who visited the city, and demand continued to rise keeping NYC annual occupancy rate for hotel rooms at about 87%; and

WHEREAS, rapid growth of new hotels across different districts of the city has led to concerns about land use and zoning conflicts with surrounding areas; and

WHEREAS, In commercial and industrial mixed-use districts, hotels have introduced conflicts with surrounding uses as overnight accommodations differ from their neighboring conforming uses; and

WHEREAS, Examples of these land use and zoning conflicts include such characteristics as a hotel in a manufacturing area that may cause added pedestrian traffic where heavy machinery and trucks are being operated, or a hotel setback from the street which creates a disruptive streetscape and possibly an unsafe pedestrian environment; and

WHEREAS, To address concerns associated with rapid hotel growth and proliferation throughout the city, the CPC adopted a variety of special purpose districts with special permits related to hotel development which were very context and location specific; and

WHEREAS, An example is the East Midtown Sub-district, where in 2017, a special hotel use permit was adopted with findings and criteria specific to the needs of the local business community and to this sub-district; and

WHEREAS, The City believes that a robust tourism economy is vital to New York’s economic health and tourism is expected to recover from the pandemic, and once it does, hotel development is expected to resume at the pace it was prior to the pandemic; and

WHEREAS, DCP is bringing forward this ZTA which will create a consistent zoning framework for new hotels and allow the CPC to evaluate each hotel development’s impact on the current and future use and development of its surrounding fabric because hotels have the potential to create land use conflicts in a variety of ways and in a variety of neighborhood contexts; and

WHEREAS, The proposed citywide Hotels Special Permit will replace all existing special district special permits, with the exception of the existing M1 Districts Hotels Special Permit; and

WHEREAS, The proposed citywide Hotels Special Permit will replace all the other existing Hotels Special Permits, including the Midtown East Sub-District Hotel Special permit; and

WHEREAS, Hotels would still be not permitted in residential districts; and

WHEREAS, Current rules for Use Group 5 developed solely for a public purpose, such as temporary housing for the un-housed communities and the homeless, will not change, allowing these facilities to meet the City’s legal obligation to provide emergency shelter and social services for the needs of these populations; and

WHEREAS, The proposed ZTA is intended to address the land use concerns related to commercial hotels and is neutral with regard to current policies related to siting social services and shelter facilities that also have sleeping accommodations; and

WHEREAS, The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant effect on the NYC hotel industry and its workers wherein a net total of 146 hotels (out of 705) and 42,030 rooms closed with 96.3% of room closures occurring in Manhattan and an estimated 197,000 jobs lost in 2020, in the leisure and hospitality industry; and

WHEREAS, 105 of the mostly luxury and upscale Hotels that closed due to the pandemic were located in Midtown Manhattan; and

WHEREAS, Experts predict a full recovery in the Hotel industry by 2025; and

WHEREAS, CPC proposes recovery provisions intended to restore the hotel industry to pre-COVID levels which include modified vesting, exclusions of recent or active land use applications and extended discontinuance; and

WHEREAS, Modified vesting will allow projects in the DOB pipeline to advance, even if foundations are not complete by adoption of the proposed ZTA; and

WHEREAS, Exclusions of recent or active land use applications include Hotel Special Permit applications approved by CPC or BSA or those that begin the CPC public review or file with the BSA after January 1, 2018 and prior to the adoption of the proposed ZTA will not require a special permit; and

WHEREAS, Extended Discontinuance will allow hotels that exist on the date of the proposed ZTA adoption, should they become vacant, to retain their hotel use six years (rather than two years for other non-conforming uses) from the date of adoption without a special permit and allow existing hotels to convert to another use and convert back to hotel use until six years from the date of adoption; and

WHEREAS, A draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was issued on May 3, 2021 which identified significant adverse impacts with respect to the Hotel and Tourism Industry; and

WHEREAS, The proposed ZTA for the citywide Hotel Special Permit states that the findings required to grant such Hotel Special Permit, are that the hotel use will not impair the future use or development of the surrounding area and the Commission may prescribe additional conditions and safeguards to minimize adverse effects on the character of the surrounding area; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five believes that hotel use should be regulated with a Hotel Special Permit framework; and

WHEREAS, The findings and criteria to justify the issuance of a special permit under the current proposal are very vague, could be subject to interpretation and lack objective metrics; therefore be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends denial of the application proposing a Zoning Text Amendment to require a City Planning Commission Special Permit for new hotels in CB5’s District unless:

  1.                 The approval format, requirements and definitions of findings of all existing Hotel Special Permits in the CB5 district remain in place because the current Hotel Special Permit requirements are stronger and more context specific than the vague requirements of the proposed ZTA; this means that on attached applicability map of CB5, all areas shown in gray will retain their Hotel Special Permit zoning text intact.
  2.                 For those areas shown in red on the applicability map, the proposed ZTA definitions of findings and approval criteria are strengthened and clarified with objective and specific metrics including but not limited to:

1)                First and foremost, the neighborhood character similar to the requirements and findings of other such Special Permits;

2)                Impact on pedestrian traffic;

3)                Impact on vehicular traffic, congestion and air pollution;

4)                Streetscape, and street wall continuity;

5)                Overall urban design, bulk and massing;

6)                Economic displacement,

7)                All other environmental effects

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