Board Approves Added Height for Controversial Hotel

By Jill Colvin on November 11, 2011 5:25pm 

A rendering of the new hotel at 237 W. 54th St.
A rendering of the new hotel at 237 W. 54th St.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — Midtown's Community Board 5 approved an air rights transfer Thursday night that will allow a controversial new West 54th Street hotel to rise even higher, despite neighbors’ objections.

The board voted 35-to-2 to allow a Moinian affiliate to purchase 24,000-square-feet of development rights from the Booth Theater on West 45th Street, allowing them to build a new 34-story, 400-room hotel on West 54th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.

A special zoning perk allows Broadway theaters to sell air rights — undeveloped space above a building — in bundles to developments between West 40th and West 57th streets and Sixth and Eighth avenues.

In exchange for the air rights, the developer will have to pay between $360,000 to $425,000 into the Theatre Subdistrict Fund, which was developed in 1998 to preserve theaters around Midtown and help to fund new productions.

The move would add even more density to what has quickly become one of Manhattan's most construction-heavy blocks, with Harry Gross' 67-story Marriott Hotel already rising at the corner of Broadway, and Boston Properties' 1-million-square-foot glass office tower going up along Eighth Avenue.

But despite the approval, members expressed hesitation about the application as well as Moinian.

“We had a number of concerns about the project,” said Kate McDonough, chair of the board’s Land Use and Zoning committee, as she presented the project to the rest of the board.

“This neighborhood will be under enormous stress,” she said.

In addition to concerns about density, tenants in the four-story building next door said they were nervous about what might happen to their own building and appealed to the board to reject it once again.

Trent Gouch, 74, who has lived on the block for nearly 50 years, said he feared a mishap during construction could damage the building to such an extent that he and other tenants would be forced to vacate their businesses and homes.

“[We’re] worried that the foundation will be undermined and people will be thrown out,” he said.

A representative for the company said earlier this month that construction at the hotel is expected to have “minimal impact” on the property next-door.

To help appease their concerns, the board has asked the developers to hire a mediator who can work with residents to address any issues that might arise as construction moves ahead.

Board members also suggested including language in their resolution asking the city to pay closer attention to the transfer of air rights, so that all bonus don't end up allotted to the same blocks.

But board member Meile Rockefeller, the only one who voted against approval during the committee hearing, said there was no way she could support the project, describing it as “an excessive burden for the block.”

The Department of Buildings has already given the go-ahead for a 27-story hotel on the site.

The City Planning Commission has given the community 60 days to weigh in on the application, which began on Oct. 31.

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