Tribeca Rezoning Puts the Squeeze on As-Of-Right Hotels

An article from this week’s New York Observer discusses limitations on hotels proposed for Tribeca. Generally, hotels, considered a “commercial” use under the zoning resolution, are permitted in New York City in all commercial zoning districts (which also permit residential uses) and some manufacturing zoning districts (which do not permit residential uses) with no limitations. The proposal, which is part of a general overhaul of the zoning in northern Tribeca, would limit hotels permitted as-of-right in the area to those with 100 rooms or less. This is worth taking a closer look at, since it’s the first time in recent history that the City has proposed restrictions on hotels in a commercial area.

There has been a significant amount of discussion in the past on limiting hotels in manufacturing districts – as discussed by us here – to preserve the manufacturing character of an area, or to stop illegal residential uses in such districts from masquerading as hotels. Much scrutiny was placed on the Trump Soho hotel, which is not only a hotel in a manufacturing zone, but a “condotel,” which permits actual ownership of the rooms. Many restrictions have been placed on this property ensuring that usage is actually “transient.”

The North Tribeca proposal would permit hotels with more than 100 rooms only by Special Permit. The Special Permit process can take up to 2 years and requires public review by the local Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission and many times, the City Council. The proposed zoning text would require that applicants for large hotels find that the hotel “is so located as not to impair the essential residential character of, or the future use or development, of the surrounding area.” A proposed rezoning from a manufacturing district to a commercial district that assumes that an otherwise as-of-right use may impair the “essential residential character” of the area is a bit curious. Additionally, it is not clear why a hotel use would impair the residential character of this area more than any other area where hotels and residential uses are permitted with no restrictions.

The New York Observer points out that REBNY is opposed to the new restriction, and in testimony at the City Planning Commission hearing, refers to it as a “disturbing precedent.” The Observer also speculates that the cause for the heightened restrictions might be more than a desire to protect the “essential residential character” of Tribeca, saying that the Special Permit provision was pushed by the hotel union, as a way of ensuring that more hotels end up with “union-friendly” hiring practices by requiring large hotels to go in front of the City Council, which is supportive of the hotel union.