Court rejects challenge to Chelsea homeless shelter

Group claimed shelter was not an as-of-right use and exceeded maximum number of beds. In 2010, the Bowery Residents’ Committee obtained a permit from Buildings to convert a twelve-story building at 127 West 25th Street into a private not-for-profit homeless shelter, drug treatment center, and offices. BRC planned to provide a 200-bed homeless shelter, a 96-bed reception center for the homeless, a 32-bed chemical dependency crisis center, and outpatient counseling services for up to 100 individuals. Buildings considered the uses as a transient hotel and professional offices, which are permitted as-of-right under the site’s M1-6 zoning regulations.

A group of local residents, known as the Chelsea Flatiron Coalition, challenged the issuance of the permit at BSA. The Coalition claimed, among other things, that Buildings should have considered the shelter as a non-profit institution with sleeping accommodations, a health related facility, or other uses which are prohibited in a M1-6 district. The Coalition also claimed that the 328-bed facility violated a provision of the administrative code limiting a homeless shelter to 200 beds. The coalition also filed an article 78 petition challenging the permit, but a lower court stayed the proceeding until the Coalition had exhausted its administrative remedies at BSA.

BSA denied the appeal, ruling that for zoning purposes the facility qualified as a transient hotel because BRC would provide a telephone, 24-hour desk service, and laundry services. Further, the sleeping accommodations would be separated from the offices by different entrances. BSA did not consider whether the facility exceeded the code’s 200-bed limit, noting that the Department of Homeless Services was responsible for enforcing that provision, not Buildings. 8 CityLand 59 (May 15, 2011). 

On appeal at a lower court, Justice Joan A. Madden upheld BSA’s determination, ruling that BSA rationally concluded that the proposed uses were consistent with the zoning resolution’s definitions of transient hotel and office uses. As to the size of the homeless shelter, Justice Madden agreed that the facility exceeded the bed-limit, rejecting BRC’s argument that the 96-bed reception center and the 200-bed shelter should be considered separately. Madden, however, found that the 296-bed facility qualified for an exception under the code permitting the replacement of the previously closed Camp LaGuardia Shelter by two shelters with up to 400 beds each. Madden rejected the coalition’s argument that invoking the “Camp LaGuardia Exception” automatically triggered review under the City’s land use review process. The code only required review if “applicable,” and Madden had already determined the shelter complied with applicable rules and regulations.

Chelsea Flatiron Coalition v. NYC, 2011 N.Y. Slip Op. 32669U (N.Y. Cty. Sup. Ct. Oct. 14, 2011) (Madden, J.).

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