A proposed six-story, 63-unit hotel that could be coming to the long-vacant lot across the street from an overcrowded Bay Ridge school was the focal point – though not the only controversy – at a Friday, March 16 rally attended by at least a dozen local residents, organized by the Bay Ridge Community Council (BRCC) and led by State Senator Marty Golden.
The lot in question, 9114 Fifth Avenue, is across from P.S./I.S. 104 and, aside from parking for the window purveyors next door, has been vacant and on the market at the hands of a Ridge-based seller for nearly a decade.
Now, there is finally a buyer – Ankit Mehta – and he’s under fire for his plans, permits for which were pre-filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB) on Wednesday, March 14.
Elected officials at the rally contended that the site – zoned for commercial use – would be better suited for a school, as the neighborhood is within the catchment area of one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city. In addition, pols in attendance declared, Bay Ridge does not need a hotel.
Nor, Golden said, does it need a homeless shelter – something, he alleged, that the development will eventually become when its room do not fill up, citing a “prostitution-plagued” property Golden said that Mehta owns in East New York (where, the pol later contended the homeless should both “go back to” and “stay.”)
“We do not want another hotel that’s going to deny our children the education that they so deservedly need,” said the pol, referencing Mehta’s alleged “track record” (specifics of which he did not provide at the protest). “It’s not about the homeless. The state is acting on the homeless…they just don’t belong here, where we need classrooms.”
However, according to Mehta, his ties to both East New York and the homeless have been entirely fabricated.
“I do not own a hotel in East New York and I have nothing to do with a hotel in East New York,” he told this paper.
He does, however own another hotel near LaGuardia Airport, though, not once, he said, has he done business with the Department of Homeless Services, Section 8 housing or other for-profit voucher programs. Mehta is also behind another hotel currently going up in Gravesend, at 2632 West 13th Street.
“I have absolutely nothing against the homeless population – that’s just not what I’m in the business of,” Mehta said, adding that one of his first jobs was in Bay Ridge and that he feels a strong connection to the ‘hood (his architect, he said, is also tied to the nabe). “I want to build a franchise hotel that makes the neighborhood proud and serves the community – the kind of hotel that this community has not had in decades.”
Its potential clientele aside, Golden had backing from a bevy of local politicians – all of whom spoke out against the site housing a hotel amidst greater community need.
“This great space across the street from an overcrowded school [should not be] used as a hotel when we could use classroom space and senior housing and when this community needs access to affordable healthcare here,” said Congressmember Dan Donovan.
Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis shared similar sentiments. “It’s not political, it’s about preserving Bay Ridge, and giving us what we need in our community,” she said, pointing to the mayor’s plan to build 90 homeless shelters across the city and the incentives she said are given to hotel owners at the average taxpayer’s expense.
Councilmember Justin Brannan – who had been outspoken about the rally, even going as far as to label it “fear-mongering” and the “demonization of the most vulnerable in our society” – did go on record Friday opposing the hotel, though, he said to Golden when pressed on it publicly, and reiterated to this paper after the fact, a homeless hotel is not nor ever was on the table.
“I’m here today because a hotel is not what our community needs,” Brannan said at the rally. “We could use some housing that the middle class can afford, we could use some housing that our seniors can afford so that they can stay local and age in place. I’d love to see a community center built here and, of course, I’d love to see some classrooms.”
Residents in attendance also gave their point of view.
Longtime Bay Ridgeite, mother, grandmother and educator Theresa Monforte contended that, “A child has the right to attend school in a safe environment. Putting a hotel here is definitely not going to be a safe environment. We know what happens. We don’t know what is in this man’s mind, but we do know what happens when hotels go up – they get bought by the city.
“We need classrooms,” Monforte continued. “We need to bring our children in off the street and do something constructive, and this piece of property would be a great place to do that.”
BRCC President Ralph Succar agreed. “This is our community, these are our children, they are our future,” he said. “If we don’t protect them and voice our opinions for them, we are not doing our job as citizens.”
This, Mehta said, is something he sympathizes with.
“A lot of people have their heart in the right place, and I just want everybody to see that I do, too,” he said. “I’m not against the community – I’m a part of the community, and the only thing I want is to create a building that serves this community’s needs, that contributes to local property taxes and local economic growth and to create local jobs and really make the community proud.”
The site, he explained, isn’t zoned for a school, and, he added, the only hotels the community has are the Gregory at 8315 Fourth Avenue and the Prince at 315 93rd Street – both of which come with their fair share of controversy.
However, according to the Department of City Planning, it would not be impossible to build a school on the site. In fact, a special permit request was submitted to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals in 2016 for a six-story expansion to Bay Ridge Prep at 429 89th Street – a nearby plot of land with the same C8-2 zoning.
Mehta’s plans aside, tensions heightened as a few audience members questioned Golden’s motives – some asking what the pol had done to help secure more than $2 million in funding P.S./I.S. 104, specifically, is owed as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement in 2006. In response to a “classrooms, not hotel rooms” chant led by the pol, a rally-goer shouted, “Properly funded classrooms!”
“They are properly funded. We are moving the money in the right direction,” said Golden. “We put over 30 percent in the past three years into education, [and] another billion dollars this year going into education.”
“You’re not putting funding into our schools,” contended Alliance for Quality Education Campaigns Director Maria Bautista, who Golden at one point suggested be removed from the rally by police on standby.
Bautista was allowed to stay, though she, Mallory McMahon (a member of local grassroots group Fight Back Bay Ridge), and others who spoke out against Golden were criticized by the pol for “politicizing” the rally.
“Marty Golden is a politician, so when he puts on Facebook that he’s sponsoring a rally, that rally is by nature political,” said McMahon. “I have my own feelings about the nimbyism and the underlying racist rhetoric but my major reaction to this was, if Golden’s going to say that this is about the students and the school, we must then talk about Golden’s record on education.”
McMahon, who has been flyering since February alongside members of AQE at subway stations and schools owed money under CFE, added that, with P.S./I.S. 104 on the group’s list of locales, it was a no-brainer to do so during a gathering that, she claims, Golden did not even plan (BRCC did) but simply attached his name to.
“If it’s about the classrooms, then great, let’s talk about the classrooms,” she said, adding that “at no time did we ever try to disrupt Marty, no matter how vile those statements were. All we were saying was that you cannot talk about classrooms without talking about the money that this school has been starved of.”
The argument “classrooms not hotel rooms,” “sounds pretty good on the surface,” McMahon continued, “but if it’s about the classrooms, why won’t he give them their money? And why does this have to be tied into hotel rooms? Schools like P.S./I.S. 104 need more money first, not Marty’s poor-blaming, racist rhetoric which equates homelessness to drugs and danger.”
Following the rally, the Kings County Republican Party released a similar statement to Golden’s rebuttal condemning “the Bay Ridge Democrats and their candidates” for “playing politics with our children’s and neighbors’ safety” — and thanking every elected official but Brannan, the only Democrat among the electeds and the only speaker with ties to the Bay Ridge Dems — for “opposing the construction of a homeless shelter.”
Not once does the party statement use the word “hotel.”
When asked for further comment, John Quaglione, an aide to Golden, said it was not so much the buyer’s connection to East New York that’s important, but rather, his intent to build a “hotel” — something Mehta does seem set on.
“I want to add to the community,” the buyer told this paper. “I don’t want to subtract from it.”