Soho/Noho: Pathway pitched for legalizing nonartists

BY GABE HERMAN | At a June 13 meeting for the Envision Soho Noho process, preliminary recommendations were presented for issues in the area, based on the process of community input that included four public workshops from February to May.

Some top issues included protecting artists and the artistic tradition of Soho while officially allowing nonartist residency; reducing regulation hurdles for small businesses; and improving quality-of-life issues, such as street and sidewalk congestion, and improving garbage pickups.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer gave brief opening remarks in the auditorium of the Scholastic Building at 130 Mercer St.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer speaking at the June 13 public meeting. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Brewer said she hoped to see feedback incorporated into the final planning.

“This is not the end of the process, it’s just the beginning,” she assured. Brewer said there will be many more meetings, including extending into the fall with Community Board 2 committee meetings.

Consultant Jonathan Martin, from BFJ Planning and the Pratt Institute, outlined the preliminary recommendations. They were separated into three big categories: “improve quality of life,” “ensure neighborhood vitality” and “promote economic vitality.” The full slide show can be found on the Web site.

Regarding improving quality of life, easing congestion was mentioned, along with better coordinating commercial deliveries and adding open spaces and greenery. (Before the meeting, members of Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden passed out fliers urging that the Soho/Little Italy-area garden be saved and that a senior housing project slated for it be relocated to an empty city-owned lot at Hudson and Clarkson Sts.)

The presentation also included maintaining artists residences through the existing Joint Living-Working Quarters for Artists, or J.L.W.Q.A., zoning. At the same time, there was a recommendation for creating a pathway for nonartists to become legal residents, possibly including amnesty for current nonartists in the area until new live-work regulations could be explored.

Other goals outlined included affordable housing for artists and maintaining the area’s character by keeping new buildings consistent with older buildings’ height, scale and density.

Jonathan Martin presenting preliminary recommendations. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

The notion of designating Soho an arts and cultural district was raised. Also stressed was the idea of encouraging and nurturing spaces for artists and smaller cultural businesses, possibly through tax incentives or other financial support.

Martin acknowledged that some of the presentation’s goals were general ideas that needed more fleshing out before they could ultimately be enacted. But he echoed Brewer that it was an ongoing process, adding that people could submit feedback about the presentation on the process’s Web site until June 20, and after that date by e-mailing

A report will be released and posted online this summer. Martin said it would include a recommendation to collect more accurate data about how many verified artists are actually currently neighborhood residents.

Beyond that report, there will be opportunity for further community engagement at a C.B. 2 Land Use Committee meeting in October.

During the meeting’s public feedback portion, a local woman stressed that no exceptions should be allowed to the 10,000-square-foot cap on retail stores, though the presentation left open that possibility.

“This is a way to destroy the area,” she declared of larger retail, drawing applause from the crowd.

Another resident said he appreciated the work that went into the presentation, but that people are concerned that New York University is intent on expanding in the area. He cited a report by an N.Y.U. researcher outlining ways to create more classrooms and N.Y.U. housing in the area. In March, an N.Y.U. spokesman denied this was the university’s official position, and Martin echoed this, to groans from the audience.

The meeting was held in the Scholastic Building in Soho. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Another woman asked how local politicians could be trusted in this process, when the Elizabeth St. Garden is at risk of being destroyed and N.Y.U. was allowed to build a new tower on Mercer St. between Houston and Bleecker St., which is currently under construction.

“N.Y.U. has bought this city and this neighborhood,” she said.

A man who said he has lived in the community since 1977 complained that noise issues were not addressed in the presentation. He said there has been an explosion of foot traffic, leading to more food trucks, which have noisy, diesel-spewing generators and are parked illegally. He said that London has banned food trucks with diesel exhaust.

Another resident asked what would happen with existing large retail stores that exceed the district’s 10,000 square-foot limit, and if they would simply be grandfathered in.

“I’d prefer them forced down to the 10,000 limit,” he said, “because they offer nothing culturally.”

6 Responses to Soho/Noho: Pathway pitched for legalizing nonartists

  1. "amnesty for current nonartists" — having attended all of the previous workshops, I can swear that the A word was never mentioned, never ever, so how did it get into this a summation report???? The answer is not a good one. Martin told us he'd only report on what was discussed, but he's doing the bidding of the elected villains who hired him.

    This Martin guy has zero credibility. He's being used to do the bidding of the City Planning members who we never had a chance to vote for. He's allowing himself to be used. Who would ever hire this guy again for Anything??? I've never been so disappointed in a living human. It's the worst of 'say one thing, do another', so the only answer is that he's screwing over residents on purpose.

    But what's important: look at the pictures. There were tons of people at the first couple of meetings. But City Planning's scheme is working: just keep setting meetings and do nothing until you wear down people who have jobs, children, and commitments. Once the voters are fed up and stop attending, then you can blame them for not showing up, and you can just do what you want.

    I can't believe I voted for some of the people leading these residents down this horrible path. Margaret Chin has accepted her place as the most hated council member, but I can't imagine Gale Brewer ever regaining her once-stellar reputation. And that's really sad.

    • "…just keep setting meetings and do nothing until you wear down people who have jobs, children, and commitments." Hey, it worked for NYU!

  2. As the only certified Artist In Residence still living in a co-op that some artists founded in 1975, I am currently in the process of being deported from the small loft that my family and I own, and have spent decades sanding, scraping, painting and most importantly, legalizing.

    An original stock certificate, an original lease, stamped completed permits, and even a passed audit and a “Letter of Completion” from the DOB, mean nothing to the wealthy new residents of my building, who are hell bent to turn an obscene profit, and feel entitled to flatten anyone who stands in their way.

    I have no misconceptions about what “Soho” has become, and no particular objection to removing restrictions against non-artists, who are the only people who can afford to come here today. That said, many of these new arrivals are clearly here to throw out those of us who pioneered a harsh and forgotten old stretch of factory buildings, way back in the 20th century. The protections that the City of New York promised us with the original loft laws for joint living-work units must stand. We created “Soho” and now we need to be protected against the beast which we inadvertently created.

    I was living in a ‘58 Chevy purchased for $100 bucks from a bereft horseplayer when I moved into a deserted harpsichord factory. It was cold, and the oily factory pallets and flapping doors provided more comfort than the Chevy, which had been broken into on Avenue C.

    A life as an artist was taken as a calling, and an artist had no assurance of ever earning a living. After all, it was a gang of crazy artists who rescued these “Soho lofts” from Robert Moses’ postwar highway oblivion.

    The City of New York created a covenant with artists, by passing loft laws and the A.I.R. requirements, which also greatly benefitted the City by enabling the rehabilitation of a derelict section of lower Manhattan. We assumed that our homes and families would be protected by the A.I.R. requirement, and couldn’t possibly imagine that these protections would be rescinded just as we greet the dawn of our old age.

    Today, the rule of law is apparently fake news, and mega real estate interests announce the doom of anything that is not money through the flapping tongues of our elected officials!

  3. The concept was good while it lasted. Non Artists have taken over SOHO. As a professional Realtor I have seen people bypass the rules and the Law. Too bad for people like Harry_Pincus but this is the future for SOHO Artists.

    • Go tell that to the people in Westbeth and the people in Manhattan Plaza, and there are others, too, so why come down on soho artists when everyone else gets their space????

    • At least Perryro offers some wan sympathies, before dismissing artists like me to the dustbin, but "professional Realtor(s)" like Perryro make a living out of replacing us with well heeled clients. In our case, a Sotheby's agent knowingly represented a non-artist owner, who tried to sell, or sublet an illegal, uninhabitable space next door to us which has no work permits, no fire escape, insufficient light and air, and does not appear on the building's CO as a separate apartment. That agent knew full well that this uninhabitable space is the subject of 14 violations, including Aggravated Class I, regarded by the DOB as a threat to human life. When Money talks, the Law walks.

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