Chelsea Hotel Tenants Face Off With Landlord's Team

By Mathew Katz on February 16, 2012 7:44am 

Architect Gene Kaufman presents plans to change the exterior of the Hotel Chelsea on Feb. 15, 2012.
Architect Gene Kaufman presents plans to change the exterior of the Hotel Chelsea on Feb. 15, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — Beleaguered tenants of the Hotel Chelsea came face-to-face with representatives of the landmarked building's landlord at a tense meeting to decide the fate of the iconic address' facade.

At a standing room only meeting, members of the Community Board 4 Landmarks Committee voted to ask the city’s Landmarks Preservation Committee to delay a decision on an application to modify the exterior of the build at 222 W. 23rd St..

They cited a lack of information about the plans and many unanswered questions.

The proposal includes replacing the building’s windows, building new water towers, constructing two new elevators, replacing certain storefronts and, most controversially, adding a 16-to-30 foot high rooftop extension on the western part of the building.

The plan’s architect, Gene Kaufman, refused to answer several committee member’s questions, including those about what the rooftop would be used for. He also lacked information the committee deemed relevant to the plans, including the square-footage of the rooftop space.

The height of the space is currently represented by a set of scaffolding on the roof, which Kaufman argued could barely be seen from the street.

While the CB4 Landmarks Committee can only make decisions based on the building’s exterior, they were particularly interested in the extension, which many residents fear will become a noisy bar. 

“We did not come here to talk about what’s inside,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman came to the meeting with more detailed documents than were submitted to the board, but would not promised to get the committee the expanded documents.

“Do you have something to hide?” asked Community Board 4 Chair Corey Johnson, shaking his head. “I find that to be an unacceptable answer."

Michael Butler, an attorney for the Chetrit Group, which owns the hotel, eventually said he would provide the board the complete plans. 

A lobbyist for the Chetrits, Kathleen Cudahy, would not say specifically what the rooftop extension would be used for.

Concerned residents attend a meeting of the CB4 Landmarks Committee dealing with the Hotel Chelsea on Feb. 15, 2012.
Concerned residents attend a meeting of the CB4 Landmarks Committee dealing with the Hotel Chelsea on Feb. 15, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

“When you have a rooftop addition on a hotel, it’s going to be related to a hotel use, with the understanding that there are hotel residents who have lived there for many years and will continue to live there,” Cudahy said.

“That could mean a bar. That could mean a lounge. That could mean a spa.”

Dozens of hotel residents were also in attendance, and used the meeting to voice their concerns about the hotel’s controversial renovation, including the recent discovery of asbestos in several of the hotel’s air shafts.

“What are the plans for asbestos abatement?” asked resident Meli Pennington. “We’re in the dark as to our safety. We live in this building. Many of us work in this building.” 

Neighbors of nearby buildings also expressed concerns about the noise coming from construction and a potential rooftop party space.

Other tenants were worried new elevators would replace air shafts that as many as 22 apartments are connected to.

“Many of us live on that air shaft, “ said one resident. “It was not clear how far down the elevator would go.”

“There are no tenants there,” said Kaufman. “It’s a continuous air shaft that runs through the building.”

The proposed changes are currently scheduled to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which will make a final decision on them in March. If the CB4 committee’s request to the commission is granted, that will likely be delayed by at least a month.

“I just have not got answers to this and I certainly cannot vote to approve this until I get some answers,” said committee member Jean-Daniel Noland.

Committee members also said they would ask the board to take up tenants’ concerns about the dangers of the ongoing renovation.

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