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Developer trades controversial Bay Ridge hotel for affordable housing

Plans for a six-story, 63-unit hotel near an overcrowded Bay Ridge elementary school have morphed into a proposal for a new, nine-story, 95-foot-high building with 45 apartments, including some affordable housing, plus commercial space on the ground floor.

The property, 9114 Fifth Avenue, is across from P.S./I.S. 104 and, aside from parking for the window purveyor next door, has been vacant and on the market at the hands of a Ridge-based seller for nearly a decade.

That all changed in March, 2018, when preliminary plans for a hostelry were filed by the property’s new owner, Ankit Mehta, who came under fire almost immediately for his proposal for the lot, which, residents and politicians argued, would be better suited for a school.

Rallies against a hotel at the site were raucous and numerous, former state Sen. Marty Golden leading the charge in contending that Mehta’s hotel would essentially become a homeless shelter –something, he alleged, the developer would have to resort to when the hotel rooms did not fill.

Golden also cited a “prostitution-plagued” property he claimed Mehta owned in East New York — despite the fact that the developer repeatedly denied a connection to the property and further claimed no partnership (past or present) with the Department of Homeless Services, Section 8 housing or other for-profit voucher programs — and repeatedly said Mehta would flip the property, leaving his constituents “stuck with a hotel that not only has homeless vouchers but also prostitution and who knows what else.”

He launched a petition, instead, for “classrooms, not hotel rooms.”

The almost 40,000-square-foot lot, though, isn’t zoned for a school. Nor is it zoned for housing. To make the latter happen, the developer has proposed rezoning a chunk of the block (9108 to 9128 Fifth Avenue and 405 to 419 92nd Street) from strictly commercial to combined commercial and residential uses to accommodate the project.

Councilmember Justin Brannan — who, at the plan’s inception, opposed a hotel, citing a greater need for schools and permanent housing — said he had sat down with Mehta in hopes of a compromise.

“Instead of encouraging dog whistles and fear-mongering, I chose to sit down and talk to the developer to explain to him that, for many reasons, the community was in almost unanimous agreement that this was not an ideal location for a hotel,” the pol told this paper. “So after the politically driven rallies, yelling and screaming died down, I sat with Dr. Mehta and worked to find a way for him to build something that the community actually needed, which is the direction we are fortunately headed.”

The developer, Brannan went on, “has proven to be a man of his word, has listened to the community and is ready to do the right thing.”

Mehta — who owns the property next door at 411 92nd Street as well — also wants to establish the site as a “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Designated Area,” requiring him to set aside between 25 and 30 percent of the apartments for affordable housing, with the rent for apartments based on the average median income of residents within Community Board 10, where the lot is located. Designating the site for inclusionary housing allows the developer to build more densely than he would be able to, otherwise.

According to the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS), the project would total 38,813 square feet of residential space and another 9,672 of retail space. All in all, there would be seven studio apartments, six two-bedrooms and 32 one-bedrooms, with at least 25 parking spots, based on zoning requirements for the proposed R7A/C2-4 zoning district.

Depending on the exact plan (the EAS cites several alternatives), the original lot would be combined with adjacent properties to provide the square footage for the development.

The current zoning is C8-2, which reflects the existing uses within what was dubbed Bay Ridge’s “auto district,” and which was up-zoned in 2005, when the Special Bay Ridge District — originally put into place in 1978 in response to two large-scale developments (the Bay Ridge Towers and Shore Hill), in an effort to maintain Bay Ridge’s small-town character and modest scale — was revised.

While many of the residential portions of the neighborhood saw additional restrictions placed on them at that time, the rezoning actually doubled the permitted density within the auto district, though it also imposed a maximum 70’ height limit.

Since the plan is still in its early stages, CB 10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann said the board has not yet reviewed the EAS. However, citing contention over the previous plan, Beckmann said she thinks this change will see some support.

“There was great community opposition for the use of that building as a hotel,” she told this paper, “and there are already many properties on that block with residential use, so I think that this new use is one that will garner support from local residents.”

From here, she added, the project will move into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) phase, at which point, the board will submit its recommendations.

Developers expect construction to take less than 24 months, with an estimated completion set for 2022, according to the EAS.

Neither Mehta nor his representative immediately responded to this paper’s request for comment.

P.S./I.S. 104 (9115 5th Avenue) serves over 1,200 students, grades K through 8.

Bklyner first reported on the EAS.

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