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Air Rights Scuffle Thwarts Lightstone's Chelsea Hotel Plans

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There is a proposal to build a new hotel in Chelsea. It would be on West 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues. But it's not the still-unbuilt Hyatt House on the corner, which has been in the works in one form or another since at least 2006. Rather, Lightstone Group wants to build another hotel just to that site's west, at 105-109 West 28th Street. On hand to present the 25- to 30-story hotel project to Manhattan Community Board 5's Land Use, Housing, & Zoning Committee earlier this week were developer Lightstone's Sanford Blumenthal and Scott Avram. But the principal presenter was their land use attorney, Howard Goldman of GoldmanHarris LLC.

Follow the bouncing ball: Lightstone wants to build a 25- to 30-story hotel. There is an existing structure on those lots, but it has what was described as "dilapidated" retail space and a handful of residential tenants —one of which has already been bought out and four more who are in the process of being bought out. The site is zoned accordingly. So, once the buyouts and demolition are completed, a hotel could be built on the site. The question is: how tall can it rise?

To achieve that height, they want to buy the unused air rights of four other sites on the block —111-113 West 28th Street, 114 West 29th Street, 116-118 West 29th Street, and 120 West 29th Street. With those air rights, the hotel could total 110,000 square feet. Without them, it would only have 63,500 square feet. In order for Lightstone to acquire and use all of those air rights, they need to be combined into one contiguous lot of air rights. Four applications were filed with the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) in April to allow the sale and merging of the air rights from those lots.

But in 1979 and 2003, respectively, the BSA assigned no value to those air rights which would now seem quite valuable—after all, someone does want to use them for a a presumably a profit-making hotel. So, the big controversy, in the eyes of the community board members, was whether the air rights should be valued again before any transfer or sale occurs. The committee also wanted to know what kind of jobs would be created by the project and how it would benefit the neighborhood.

As for the public's reaction, it was mixed. There was one resident of 111-113 West 28th Street who expressed a lot of angry NIMBY views and came out against the bigger hotel. But another speaker seemed to like the addition of hotels to the neighborhood, noting that it's easier for him to get a cab now.

So Goldman promised to make sure the BSA does not hold a public hearing on the air rights matter before the project appears before the next meeting of CB5's Land Use Committee, which is set for Wednesday, July 2. A hearing would be the next step in the process, and CB5 members don't want it to go forward until they have time for analysis and another meeting of their own.

—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All 101 West 28th Street coverage [Curbed]