Hotel Developer Meets With CB And Locals
At times the meeting was contentious, as members of the community were able, for the first time, to directly address the man who wants to build what is being termed a ‘transient’ hotel on Beach 44 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
Members of Community Board 14’s Land Use committee and residents listened as owner and developer Amritpal Sandhu and his representatives tried to calm community fears that the hotel will turn into a homeless shelter, during a meeting at the Peninsula Center for Extended Care and Rehabilitation on September 27.
Sandhu said that, in order to allay fears, he will modify his plan by adding both parking slots and security and by cutting down the number of rooms.
The new hotel will now have 24-hour security run by Choice Security Services which is located on Rockaway Boulevard. Twenty parking spaces will be added to the plans. This, Sandhu said, will result in a decrease from 98 to 94 rooms. There will be a restaurant inside the hotel for breakfast, lunch and dinner and will only be open until midnight.
“We’re going to have less rooms and more parking,” said Donna Daily, the general manager of Sandhu’s Comfort Inn and Suites in Ozone Park.
Speaking for La Quinta was Thomas Giuliano, Director of Franchise Sales at La Quinta Hotels.
“The hotels are inspected six times a year,” said Giuliano. “We do spot inspections. We do not allow short stays or any type of illegal activity.”
If La Quinta’s strict standards are not met, Giuliano said, the company does “have the legal rights to move away from the project.”
As a franchise La Quinta does not operate the hotel but they do, according to Giuliano, “set the guidelines as to how it is to be operated. They grant franchises but do not choose their locations. In making their decisions to grant a franchise they look at a developer’s history and what he has built and operated previously.
“We [also] base it on populations, demand, airports, current market rates in this area [a 10 to 15 mile radius].”
As to the changes in parking, CB 14 chair Delores Orr asked, “How is 20 parking spots going to serve the hotel and not devastate the surrounding community.”
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, whose district includes Ozone Park, challenged Sandhu about how the lack of parking affects areas around Sandhu’s current hotels.
“There’s no parking,” said Simon. “I can attest for that. When I go there for all my meetings I have to go to the local school on Lafayette Street. I can’t park. You’re filling up the neighborhood.”
CB 14’s Al Moore added, “It becomes overbearing trying to find a place to park when you drop that kind of a load on a neighborhood. Then what happens if your occupants can’t find a place to park?”
Sandhu did offer that “parking will be in the cellar level, four feet deep.”
Moore replied, “They can’t build houses with basements there because the water table is so high.”
Simon went on to say, “You’re building [the new] hotel right next to the subway with all the noise. … Your guests have nowhere to go. … [Then there’s] the Cross Bay Bridge toll which you didn’t take into account. …I don’t understand how the city allowed you to come into the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area and build this hotel.”
Committee member Hazeron Mohammed, who lives in Edgemere, also pointed out that the area is prone to flooding. With the restaurant scheduled to close at midnight, she also pointed out there is no place for customers to go to eat, no recreation, no transportation except for the subway which runs every half hour to 45 minutes after hours.
“Guests will have nothing,” said Mohammed.
Steve Cooper, the president of the Frank Avenue Civic Association said, “[As an Urban Renewal Area] we were promised retail in that area. …People here in the community are very anxious about it. … It doesn’t make sense to be here. There’s no restaurants here. The crime rate is high. It’s just a possibility that he would make it.”
Giuliano answered Cooper by saying, “La Quinta makes no guarantees to you folks [if it works, doesn’t work]. We don’t make the decision to go in based on homes devaluating and crime, we make it based on population, businesses and area business.
The Wave did ask Sandhu if he sur- veyed anyone in the community to find out if they wanted a hotel on Beach 44 Street.
“Not at that time. I did not talk to anybody,” said Sandhu. Regarding whether residents feelings mattered to him, he said that, actually the company did a survey and found that Rockaway was underserved by hotels, which led to the decision to build one in Edgemere. Though he now says he wants to discuss the issue with the community.
Donovan Richards, the chief of staff for Councilman James Sanders Jr. and a candidate to replace Sanders in the Council, suggested the community should focus their energies in a different direction.
Sanders got an affirmative answer when he asked Sandhu if he would sell the property back to the city. But the city would have to pay Sandhu what the land is worth plus his ‘soft costs’ or the money he has already put into the project.
The city will not do that.
“We fought these battles before and we have never seen an owner come out,” said Richards. He added that, “At the same time we have a meeting, and partly with the community board, I believe, and HPD [Housing, Preservation and Development]. We have to say to HPD, can you take these soft costs and can you eat them because you reneged on what you were supposed to do for the community.”
Richards said keeping the pressure on HPD is important because the cards are stacked against area residents in preventing the building of the hotel.
Sandhu was pressed by the board about a plan B if the hotel should fail, but he would only say he had to discuss it with his partners.
Orr pressed him on the issue, asking, “You don’t have a plan B at this time Sandhu replied, “No.”
Orr did say that the board has sent letter to the mayor listing their obje tions to the hotel and asking that th city acquire the property as was orig nally intended and “keep its commi ments and follow through on i obligations to the residents of Rock away.”