Inn-side job: Mill Basin locals worry new hotel secretly plans to become homeless shelter

Sign of rage: Phil Stenzler, left, and Barbara Becker are so upset with the new hotel developement on E. 49th Street in Mill Basin that they made a whole sign about it! Locals fear that the hotel’s developer plans to convert his “Comfort Inn” into a homeless shelter once construction is finished.
Photo by Steve Schnibbe

Mill Basin residents are very uncomfortable with plans to build a Comfort Inn.

The new hotel is already under construction on E. 49th Street between Avenues N and O, and locals worry that the developer is secretly planning to turn the three-story building into an emergency homeless shelter — though he claims his detractors are little more than busy bodies going “crazy” over nothing.

“It’s not going to be a homeless shelter,” said Queens developer Talwinder Parmar. “These people are crazy.”

But wary locals point to the project’s strange location to support their suspicions.

The 46-room hotel, which Parmar insists will open as a Comfort Inn within a year’s time, is going up on an empty lot with a Department of Sanitation garage on one side and an auto shop on the other. Locals say that nobody in their right mind would stay at a hotel next to bunch of garbage trucks — unless, of course, they were being bused in from overflowing homeless shelters with the city picking up the tab.

“The location itself leads to a lot of speculation and fear,” said Phyllis Waltuch, who lives on E. 49th Street, about a block away from the hotel. “This guy is not being honest. He’s going to come in, say it’s a hotel, and then do a bait and switch, where a year or two into this venture, he’ll make a deal with the city, get on their bankroll, and turn it into a homeless shelter.”

The Department of Homeless Services contracts with hundreds of hotels throughout the city to provide emergency space when regular shelters hit their capacity. The city typically pays hotels at least $100 per room each night to provide shelter space on a contract basis, so a 46-room hotel-cum-shelter could take in about $1.68 million a year, regardless of its location.

Waltuch isn’t alone in her fears. Several neighbors of the new structure turned out at a recent Community Board 18 meeting where they vented their anxiety about the hotel and the developer’s presumed nefarious intentions.

They were joined by Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Mill Basin), who bore the unfortunate news that the hotel is being built “as of right,” meaning there are no legal means by which local politicians or the community could block the construction.

It’s only if Parmar decides to pursue a contract with the city to provide shelter space that the community board and local electeds will have an opportunity to oppose the development, according to the councilman.

But Maisel agrees with the community that the hotel’s location is simply too bizarre to be explained by anything but bad news.

“I can only see two possibilities here. Either he wants to turn it into an hourly, hot-sheet hotel, or he has plans in the future to turn it into a shelter,” said Maisel. “I don’t believe for a minute that he’s going to be a good citizen.”

Parmar denied the hot-sheet allegation as well, insisting that development will just be a Comfort Inn, and that his clientele will consist mostly of folks traveling in and out of John F. Kennedy International Airport — 11 miles away — who are looking for modestly priced accommodations nearby.

“It’s not hourly. We don’t do that,” Parmar said. “You want to be somewhere where you know you can make some money. In my experience that’s a very good site for a hotel, and it’s in my rights to do so, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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