BSA denies challenge to twelve-story homeless shelter

Community group argued that proposed homeless shelter did not qualify as a hotel under the zoning resolution. Buildings in 2010 issued the Bowery Residents’ Committee a permit to convert a twelve-story factory building at 127 West 25th Street in Chelsea to a homeless shelter and offices. BRC planned to create a 32-bed chemical dependency crisis center, a 96-bed reception center for the homeless, a 200-bed homeless shelter, and two outpatient counseling programs serving up to 100 individuals. The site is zoned for manufacturing and, prior to applying for the permit, BRC received confirmation from Buildings that the homeless shelter would be considered an as-of-right transient hotel use.

A group of local residents and business owners, known as the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition, opposed the shelter. The Coalition sued to stop the project, but a lower court stayed the litigation until the Coalition had exhausted its administrative remedies by challenging Buildings’ permit approval at BSA.

At BSA, the Coalition claimed that Buildings erred in determining that the shelter could be considered a transient hotel. The  Coalition argued, among other things, that the facility was not a hotel according to the plain meaning of the word. According to the Coalition, the shelter and offices should have been considered a non-profit institution with sleeping accommodations and a health-related facility, which are prohibited uses in a manufacturing district.

BSA disagreed and denied the appeal. BSA found  that it was inappropriate to consult “common experience” or outside sources to define a hotel because the zoning resolution’s definition was clear and unambiguous. For zoning purposes the proposed shelter qualified as a hotel because it would include transient sleeping accommodations with separate entrances, 24-hour desk service, linen laundering, and a telephone. BSA recognized that there might be some ambiguity as to the “concept of what a hotel is,” but pointed out that the zoning resolution was  the  best  resource for  the meaning of a term when resolving a zoning matter.

BSA: 127-131 West 25th Street, Manhattan  (189-10-A)  (April  5, 2011) (Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, for Coalition).

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