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Queens Chronicle

CB 7 green-lights Union Street hotel

‘As of right’ stance diminishes board’s ability to oversee project

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:45 am, Thu Apr 18, 2013.

A sleek, 18-story glass building was destined to break through the downtown Flushing skyline. But on Tuesday night, it came one step closer to determining what purpose it would serve.

Community Board 7 approved a variance that would allow the under-construction tower on 42-31 Union St. to become a hotel rather than a residential building. The proposal passed by a 30-8 tally.

The sanction of the behemoth structure’s change in use came after a group of neighbors claimed the ongoing work at the construction site has made their homes virtually unlivable.

The project, called Eastern Mirage, is the brainchild of Flushing developer Richard Xia, principal of X&Y Development. It calls for an 18-story tower composed of 161 units at the back end of the lot, as well as a nine-story medical facility at the front of the property.

X&Y’s variance would convert the building to a “transient hotel,” allowing for room rentals of less than a month. But the developer promised to keep the residential-style layout of the units, with each sporting a full kitchen and the typical accoutrements that come with a New York City apartment.

The sheer size of the building, with its proximity to LaGuardia Airport, required an approval from the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the Port Authority. Attorneys for the developer said they gained both approvals prior to the Community Board meeting.

The developer also made a number of promises to the community in the form of additional parking — up to 300 spaces — of which an estimated 112 will be available even during peak hours. X&Y also said there will be no curbside drop-off’s or pickups at the hotel or medical facility, called the North Queens Medical Center.

Xia also promised CB 7 free use of a conference room within the building, as well as free parking for board members on the nights when meetings are held.

The developer also conducted a traffic survey, which concluded the majority of visitors will take a shuttle or taxi to and from the hotel.

“I’m a person who lives in Flushing, works in Flushing,” Xia said. “Every time I do something, I always consider every element.”

But residents of neighboring buildings came out to contest X&Y’s construction work was continuing during off-hours and well into the night and weekends, while also causing damage to adjacent structures.

“They don’t listen to us,” said Erica Brassoi, a resident of 42-37 Union St., which is adjacent to the construction site. “They keep changing the goals of what the project will be.”

Brassoi and others pointed to 36 Department of Buildings violations X&Y has accrued during its work, as well as a stop-work order that has been lifted.

“How many people are suing you now?” she asked Xia.

Joe Sweeney, chairman of CB 7’s Zoning/Buildings Committee, said the board’s hands were tied in preventing the project. The plot of land has an R7-1 zoning, allowing for a medium-density residential building which requires rooms to be rented out for a minimum of 30 days.

“This is ‘as of right,’ so there’s not much we can do,” Sweeney said. “It’s already under construction.”

The “as of right” phrase became a mantra throughout the evening, as numerous public complaints about the size, the developer and even the nature of the site’s soil arose.

Sweeney said he had one consideration when ironing out the board’s requests for the developer: “What would be the least amount of impact on that neighborhood?”

Concessions were made regarding the hours of the construction on the spot by Xia, who promised to change the hours.

Brassoi and others remained skeptical about Xia’s good will.

Welcome to the discussion.