You might expect Airbnb to be another little service that opened up a little bit of space in the city. It seems this kind of spread was challenging the home-sharing service, already facing at least two challenges before getting its chance to move forward in Jersey City. City officials have warned the company that it needs to submit plans for zoning changes and sidewalk modifications to get permission to operate. State lawmakers have referred the matter to the state Department of Community Affairs. We don’t know if they’ll approve Airbnb’s designs or plans, and then just let the company run with it, or the state take it over. But more than anything Airbnb is hurting the city economically. Just a few weeks ago, the company paid $80,000 to offset all the taxes the city collected for a company that is supposed to distribute those benefits to the people of New Jersey.
“The individual owner of Airbnb is supporting his household members. But Airbnb really isn’t doing anything for the people it is supposed to help,” the head of a local chamber of commerce said in a campaign ad aimed at Airbnb’s full inclusion. “This is Airbnb, and it should be called that. It should be called Take Back the City.”
This is something that would be tricky for the company to handle if it had some high-profile brand power. A lot of what Airbnb does on behalf of small hotels is marketing itself to public officials as a fairly local service, and will put employees at risk if they decide to leave. This type of exposure can make a bad situation worse for local establishments.
That aside, the City Council is now deciding whether to grant an extension of special zoning for the apartments, which is a blow to Airbnb as the start of a three-phase timeline has the city giving the hotel room sharing startup until at least 2016 to build a permanent headquarters. There will be no zoning for the apartments for that long, and then the city will develop the permanent office building, with 50 apartments in it. In the meantime, the company and the city are working on plans for an entirely new public square called Rose Garden.
The new strategy isn’t going to sit well with Councilman Ritchie Torres, who said that he didn’t want to give away the building plans for the Friends of Shadelands residential corridor, which are part of the area of land that was part of the original city development plan but was set aside for housing. “It’s not an answer to that question,” Torres said of the idea of leasing the building to Airbnb. “I do believe that this is about moving the community forward and enhancing it.”
The plan also points out that Airbnb was the venue for six city events in May, including a two-night concert and a “shooting action” taking place at sunset. The DJ and the solar-powered film crew who recorded the event are what’s known as a property manager.
“[A] that doesn’t speak to what’s happening here,” Torres said. “I think that when you include a hotel and a movie production house on the same development we have, and Airbnb is within four blocks of what one called the biggest performing arts center in the country, the notion that it can be ‘harmonized’ isn’t something that the folks at Rose Garden, or Pier 17, and everyone else are prepared to offer.”