City halts work at hotel that sparked questions about mayor’s ties to developer

DOB says project was greenlit due to inter-agency miscommunication

City Halts Weihong Hu Project
Department of Buildings' James Oddo with 317-319 West 35th Street (Department of Buildings, Google Maps, Getty)

The Department of Buildings again halted work at a hotel that has raised questions about the mayor’s relationship with the developer. 

The agency on Wednesday issued a stop work order for 317-319 West 35th Street, a 25-story hotel being developed by Mayflower Group, led by Weihong Hu. DOB acknowledged that the project should not have been approved, blaming a miscommunication with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. 

At issue, according to the agency, was documentation related to the project’s compliance with a provision of the zoning resolution that required Hu, before moving forward with demolition work, to demonstrate that no government funding could have rehabilitated the building’s residential units. 

The developer obtained a certificate of no harassment, verifying that tenants were not coerced or otherwise pressured to leave their apartments leading up to the demolition. 

HPD, however, did not certify that salvaging the apartments was not possible under “any active governmentally funded program,” as is required in part of the Garment Center District and Hudson Yards, which are defined as “anti-harassment” areas in the zoning resolution.  

“In this case, after DOB was made aware of potential approval issues by our partners at HPD, we conducted an audit and issued a stop work order at the development project,” a spokesperson for the DOB said in a statement. “The owners and their applicant of record will be required to demonstrate full compliance with zoning prior to resuming work at the site.”

HPD did reply to a request for comment. 

An investigation published last month by The City, The Guardian US and Documented detailed how Hu bundled tens of thousands of dollars for the mayor’s campaign. She later received lucrative city contracts and built relationships with longtime associates of the mayor, according to the report, and tapped one of these associates when the city shut down her hotel site in 2021.  

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The DOB issued a stop work order on Hu’s hotel project after finding a number of issues, including demolition without a permit and demolition without proper HPD certifications. The agency also flagged that the project required a special permit. At the time, developers building hotels in certain parts of the city, including the Garment District, needed to obtain special permits. That rule was superseded by a citywide requirement at the end of 2021, and the project was able to avoid the new rules because it had started prior to the Dec. 2021 vote.

The order was fully rescinded in Nov. 2022, according to DOB’s website. Hu had enlisted help from an advisor to the mayor, Rev. Alfred Cockfield II, to try to get the order lifted, according to The City. (DOB officials told the publication that the agency believed the project followed all zoning requirements at the time the order was lifted.)

Messages left for Hu and her attorney seeking comment were not immediately returned. 

When the developer received a certificate of no harassment, the DOB believed issues related to the section of the zoning resolution requiring HPD approval of demolition work were resolved. That section requires at least two different types of sign offs from HPD, not just the certificate of no harassment. 

To avoid future confusion, the agencies are considering consolidating HPD certifications. 

The developer was also able to resolve the stop work order by making the project fully commercial. Earlier plans called for residential space below the hotel, which zoning did not permit.    

The developer discarded an earlier proposal for the site, which included 14 permanently affordable apartments located below the hotel, as described in a May 2019 letter Community Board 4 sent to the DOB. That same month, Hu’s firm filed an application for the site, calling for a 20-story addition to the existing five-story building, but only described hotel use. The community board’s hopes for the building were part of a broader effort to crack down on what members once called an “epidemic” of wrongful demolitions in the district. 

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