BSA grants permit to controversial Queens spa

Spa obtained special permit despite Council member objection over use. On July 18, 2006, BSA granted a special permit to Spa World, allowing a 49,634-square-foot, three-story spa at 11-11 131st Street in College Point, Queens. The project site’s 30,124-square-foot lot was formerly vacant and is located in a manufacturing district that contains several residential and commercial uses. The three-story facility will provide sauna, skin, and massage treatments on the first floor; hot tubs, hot pools, saunas, and an outdoor spa on the second floor; and exercise equipment and a yoga/aerobics room on its top floor.

At the time of its application, Spa World had already begun construction of the building but required a special permit for the proposed use as a “physical culture or health establishment,” or PCE, under the zoning resolution. To qualify as a PCE, the primary use must be a gym or massage use; saunas, tubs and whirlpools are permitted only as incidental uses to the primary function of the building.

During a series of four public hearings between March and June 2006, Council Member Tony Avella opposed Spa World’s proposal, claiming that Spa World failed to qualify as a PCE since its massage space would occupy only 1,300 sq.ft. of the total floor area of 49,634 sq.ft. Avella argued that an accessory use could not occupy more floor space than the primary use allowed under the permit.

Community Board 7 also objected to the proposal, arguing that the spa would negatively impact local traffic and parking. In response, Spa World submitted a study showing that the spa would create less traffic than an as-of-right retail/commercial/office building. The study also found that, at its busiest time on weekends, Spa World would likely generate demand for 108 parking spaces. Spa World amended the project proposal to provide 106 accessory parking spaces, relocate the parking garage entrance to the back of the building, and limit its hours of operation.

Upon inspecting the site and reviewing plans, BSA granted the special permit, finding that the area was mixed-use and Spa World would not impair the neighborhood’s character. BSA rejected Avella’s argument, noting that if the City Council or the Planning Commission intended square footage to be a determining factor for an accessory versus a primary use, it would have included it in the Zoning Resolution. BSA found that an accessory use could “conceivably occupy more space within a building or area on a lot than the primary use.” BSA also noted that it issued PCE special permits for comparable facilities in Manhattan in the past and that Buildings had categorized Spa World as a PCE.

BSA: 11-11 131st Street (202-05-BZ) (July 18, 2006) (Eric Palatnik, for Spa World). CITYADMIN

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