Politics, City Planning on collision course

Commission could support staffers on Soho rezoning, sting them on hotel plan

New York News Analysis /
Oct.October 19, 2021 09:15 AM
From left: Marisa Lago, Anita Laremont and Mayor Bill de Blasio (LinkedIn, Getty, Wikimedia)

From left: Marisa Lago, Anita Laremont and Mayor Bill de Blasio (LinkedIn, Getty, Wikimedia)

City Planning Commission votes are not known for drama. But Wednesday’s could be different.

Two proposals backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio will come before the panel, whose chair and majority of members he appointed. The rub is that the chair, who as of Sept. 23 is Anita Laremont, also heads the Department of City Planning, which opposes one of the measures.

Staffers at the agency take a dim view of a proposal to require that developers get a special permit to build a hotel anywhere in New York City. The rank and file sees no planning rationale for subjecting hotel development in commercial districts to City Council approval, which delays projects by 18 to 36 months if it doesn’t kill them outright.

But the political rationale is obvious: It is a top priority of the Hotel Trades Council, which represents hotel workers and stands as de Blasio’s only political support of any consequence.

That matters, because although the mayor will be out of office within four months, he wants the union’s support if he runs for governor next year, just as he received it for his equally absurd presidential campaign in 2018. (The mayor says hotels in commercial districts can harm neighborhoods and need scrutiny.)

It is such a transparent quid pro quo that even the most cynical insiders are dumbfounded by its blatancy. At least, they would be if an equally naked exchange had not occurred just this month when de Blasio signed a bill requiring hotels to pay laid-off workers $500 a week for 30 weeks. (Hotel owners have sued to block it.)

Even more unusual is that city planners — mostly career professionals, but de Blasio employees nonetheless — have made it clear that they oppose the special-permit plan.

Laremont’s predecessor, Marisa Lago, avoided having to walk the wobbly, fraying tightrope that de Blasio strung across this policy cesspool by scoring a Biden administration job five weeks ago.

That leaves Laremont, a mere 27 days into her dream job, in the unenviable position of having to buck either her boss or her staff Wednesday, unless Hotel Trades can round up enough votes so she can abstain.

To be sure, the outcome has already been arranged. However, dramatic Planning Commission votes are too rare for impatient journalists to spoil by calling around. That would be like checking the final score of a big game still playing on your DVR.

The City Planning Commission will also vote on the proposal to rezone Soho and Noho, but that result has been known for a year. The only question is how much planners will change the plan to ensure enough affordable housing gets built. (“Enough” will be defined by the local City Council members, Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera. Officials have already signaled they will make tweaks to boost residential and reduce commercial development.)

On the text amendment to enact the new hotel policy, planning aide Stephanie Shellooe has mapped out potential modifications to ensure sufficient hotel development for city tourism to flourish.

“The scale of lost rooms and resulting loss in visitors has the potential to substantially affect the ability of the hotel and tourism industries to grow and meet future anticipated demand,” she said.

The alternatives include making the special permit requirement temporary, exempting small projects or hotel districts such as Midtown, or delaying it by up to six years.

An environmental impact statement must also consider the effect of changing nothing. In this case, of course, it found that continuing to allow hotel construction as-of-right “would not result in significant adverse impacts to the hotel or tourism industries.”

Status Quo, however, is not on the Planning Commission’s agenda this week. But its evil cousin, Quid Pro, will be.





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