EDITORIAL: Decoding Soho/Noho rezoning

There’s obviously a lot of confusion and anxiety among many Soho and Noho residents right now as the city has launched into a rezoning process for these two enclaves that have traditionally been home to working artists.

In short, a lot of people don’t know what to make of “the process” so far. Basically, it’s all being led by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the area, and is being facilitated by an outside consultant, Jonathan Martin, of BFJ Planning. Martin will also compile a report on the community’s recommendations for the possible rezoning.

Back in the early days of Soho as an artists’ colony, residents fixed up an abandoned loft. It’s currently only legal for people to live in Soho or Noho if a family member living in the home is a certified artist. (Courtesy Soho Memory Project)

There have been two meetings so far. There will be a total of six, with the last occurring in June. It’s expected that City Planning will then issue a report on the whole matter by next fall. Next, the actual zoning change would occur, and there would be a formal Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP.

Essentially, from what we hear from Soho sources, the city’s goals in terms of rezoning include two major wants. First, the city — and, let’s face it, much of this is being driven by big real estate — wants to make retail use as of right throughout these two districts. South of Broome St., for example, the retail that is there now has usually been grandfathered in. But, almost always, when an applicant requests a special permit or variance for retail use, it’s granted. There is, however, cost and time required to get the desired change to allow retail use in each instance.

Second, real-estate types have always seemingly been drooling at the prospect of scrapping the requirement that one member of each household in Soho and Noho must be an artist certified by the Department of Cultural Affairs. Soho’s zoning is known as Joint Living Work Quarters for Artists (J.L.W.Q.A.).

However, already, according to longtime legal residents, from 50 to 70 percent of these communities’ denizens are,  in fact, nonartists — meaning around 5,000 out of the 8,000 people who live in Soho and Noho. Actually, we hear the artist residents would prefer to keep the present situation — in which they are the legal residents: If the zoning no longer protected the artists’ right to live there, the stockbrokers and hedge-fund types would surely move to kick them out. There have already been cases where this has been tried — against a metal sculptor (she was “banging too loudly” while making her artwork) and a painter (his oil paints were too smelly and “toxic”). Meanwhile, no one is moving to kick out the nonartists, and plenty of them clearly are happy to live there without fear.

Can we just end this, yes, farce — and just get to the point? Won’t that be more constructive and calm for everyone involved? Let’s end all the intrigue — and start dealing with the nuts and bolts.

5 Responses to EDITORIAL: Decoding Soho/Noho rezoning

  1. I'm not sure what all the "confusion" is about. It's very clear in this article. And I'd bet my bottom dollar that the borough president and council member know what they want, so their only confusion is politically intentional. And I'd double down that they've not told Jonathan Martin what that is; he's just being used as a pawn.

    The big problem is that in past rezonings, whatever compromise the locals agreed to it was changed for the worse when it came time to vote in City Hall. Also, whatever the local CM wants, the local CM gets. So, no matter what is seemingly agreed to today, it will not be what gets passed in the end. That is a failure of city government and a failure of a Dem' controlled City Hall. It pains me to say that, but they will not run against each other, so that leaves us without a legitimate vote.

    The biggest problem is that No One in this area trusts Margaret Chin. This process will only result in something legitimate if she recuses herself. She has sided with big real estate far to often: Rivington House, 135 Bowery, 35 Cooper Sq., etc. This will only work if there is some modicum of Trust. There is not. And it's sad to see Gale Brewer tie her horse to this scam. I always thought better of her, but not anymore. Very sad.

    • Indeed, no one trusts Margaret Chin!

      • Isn't she term limited out after her term is up? Probably looking for her next job. Won't likely be running for mayor

        • She has stated that she plans to retire from public office after this, so she really has nothing to lose. She can screw over any constituent she wants, cuz she'll never need their vote again. That's the downside of term limits.

      • Also, the DCP Chair, Marisa Lago and Manhattan Borough President Brewer, who recently approved the development in the Elizabeth Street Garden.

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