New proposal aims to keep out “hot sheet” motels, shelters

Developers might not be able to build hotels in Hunts Point’s industrial area without a special permit, if Community Board 2 votes later this month to approve an amendment to the city’s zoning code.

At a preliminary land use meeting at its Longwood office on June 6, Board 2 voted in favor of a proposal by the Department of City Planning (DCP), establishing that new commercial hotels must obtain a special permit from the City Planning Commission to build hotels in light manufacturing zones, or M1 districts. 

The Hunts Point peninsula is one of 16 Industrial Business Zones in the city with M1 districts. Hotels are currently permitted in these areas as-of-right, meaning that they do not require any action from the City Planning Commission. Currently there are no commercial hotels on the Hunts Point peninsula.

The proposal is meant to stop the proliferation of hotels, motels, tourist cabins, and boatels (hotel on boats) in these areas, in response to concerns citywide that developers cash in on gaps in the zoning code in M1 districts. Critics say that the hotels and motels built in those areas allow for stays of just a few hours, clearly intended for prostitution to flourish.

But Board 2’s chairman Robert Crespo clarified that South Bronx residents are just as concerned that developers are building homeless shelters in these areas, to cash in on the city’s generous subsidies for shelter landlords.

“It’s something that we’ve been trying to avoid—-hotels coming into the Hunts Point area to establish themselves not as hotels or motels, but more as shelters,” said Board 2’s chairman Roberto Crespo.

Residents of Hunts Point and Longwood contend that the neighborhood has far more than its fair share of shelters already, and that any new ones for the city’s alarmingly high homeless population should be built in wealthy neighborhoods that currently have few or none. He was disappointed at the June 6 meeting when Justin Lamorella, a planner from the city planning department’s Bronx office, explained that the new proposal does not apply to homeless shelters.

“You are telling us that, even with this amendment, we will not prevent hotels from going in to become shelters?” Crespo said. “But we are not prohibiting Department Homeless Services to build the shelters?”

Lamorella emphasized that the city is not changing its policy on shelters.

“The city must maintain the existing flexibility in zoning that permits temporary housing for the homeless in all M1 districts,” the planning department maintains. “Transient hotels operated for a public purpose by the city will be exempt from the special permit.”

However, if the proposal passes, commercial hotel developers would be required to go through a land use and environmental application, which typically takes up to two years.

“What this special permit will do is put you (the developer) through a lengthy process that would culminate in the ULURP,” said Lamorella, referring to the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which includes community board, borough president, and City Planning Commission review. That rigorous process could help weed out landlords and developers whose plans conflict with the community’s needs, the board hopes.

Applications certified before April 23 of this year by the CPC will be allowed to proceed without being subjected to the new policy.

Board 2’s Land Use committee and other members approved the amendment, adding the stipulation that new homeless shelters be included in the same special permit process as hotels.

Community boards, borough boards and borough presidents are reviewing the proposal, which the City Planning Commission will then vote on at a public hearing before it moves on to the the City Council.

Board 2’s final vote will be held during the full board meeting on June 27.

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