March 4, 2016 By Christian Murray
Community Board 2 unanimously rejected a developer’s plan to construct a 17-story hotel building at 32-45 Queens Blvd. that would rise significantly higher than zoning permits.
The Board’s denial, which is merely advisory, stems from the YMCA’s attempt to sell its commercial air rights to a hotel developer who owns the adjacent 10,000-square-foot lot.
The sale of the air rights would permit Fongtar, a Bronx-based developer, to build a hotel three times the size of what would typically be allowed on the site.
While such air rights deals are common practice, the YMCA—located at 32-23 Queens Blvd.—needs the Board of Standards and Appeals to sign off on it, since the YMCA was only able to build on its Queens Boulevard site in the first place as a result of a 1990s zoning variance.
In order for the air rights to be used, the BSA must modify the existing variance. As part of that process the community board gets to weigh in.
“The community is being asked to absorb an unnecessary hotel that is significantly larger than what it would have been,” Community Board 2 chair Pat O’Brien said.
The proposed hotel would be constructed on the 10,000-square-foot parcel located at 32-45 Queens Blvd., according to Eric Palatnik, a land use attorney who represented both the YMCA and Fongtar.
Given its lot size, the developer would ordinarily only be permitted to build 20,000 square feet of hotel space (double the lot size)—or about five stories, Palatnik said.
Next door is the YMCA, which is on a 40,000-square-foot site. The property, which is being used as a community facility, still carries with it the right to develop space for a hotel. The lot would permit 80,000 square feet of hotel space (double the lot size) if it were to be developed.
The YMCA is looking for the BSA’s consent to modify its variance so it can sell 40,000 of the 80,000 square feet of unused space to Fongtar. The developer is prepared to pay $1.9 million for those rights.
For Fongtar, it will be able to build 60,000 square feet of hotel space, instead of 20,000 square feet. It is therefore proposing a 17-story building that includes 14 stories of hotel space and three stories of medical offices, which will occupy the top three floors.
The hotel would consist of 154 rooms and would have 18 parking spots.
Paul Custer, a senior vice president at the YMCA, said the non-profit would invest $250,000 of its windfall into new locker rooms at the Long Island City location with the remainder going to maintaining the more than 20 YMCA buildings citywide.
But the Board opposed the YMCA’s plan to modify its existing variance, which would block the sale of the property rights and the construction of a larger hotel next door.
“We don’t need more hotels and there is concern that as the economy shifts that underutilized hotels owned by for-profit individuals turn into other things not as desirable,” O’Brien said, likely alluding to recent conversions of hotels into homeless shelters around western Queens.
“We are being asked to accept the burden and risk of this [hotel] without much benefit to the community,” O’Brien said. “It makes it difficult to warmly embrace this.”
Two weeks ago when this issue surfaced, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said: “While I fully support the Long Island City YMCA, I simply can’t endorse a 17-story tower on this stretch of Queens Boulevard.”
However, Van Bramer has no say on BSA issues. It is now in the hands of that agency to decide.
The BSA has not responded to questions from the Sunnyside Post as of press time.