De Blasio’s SoHo Overhaul OK’d, Clearing Path for Affordable Housing and More Legal Artists’ LoftsDecember 17, 2021
Mayor Bill de Blasio earned a late-term legacy victory Tuesday when the City Council approved a rezoning of SoHo and NoHo that could reshape the pricey neighborhoods with an eye toward creating more affordable housing.
It marked the final rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure and followed a vote last month to overhaul Brooklyn’s Gowanus with a similar goal. The rezonings, aimed at bringing affordable housing to some of the city’s whitest and wealthiest areas, were hailed by de Blasio, who has repeatedly hinted at a run for governor.
“We need affordable housing everywhere in New York City, including in the most privileged communities, we need it everywhere,” he said Wednesday.
“We need a lot more of it to keep this a city for all of us.”
The downtown Manhattan plan faced steep criticism from some residents and activists concerned the change could encourage the development of more expensive housing and big-box stores.
They also feared displacement of lower-income residents from loft-filled SoHo, which has gone over the decades from a manufacturing district to an artists’ haven to the site of some of the city’s most expensive housing and retail spaces.
‘Happy Where Things Are’
After a contentious hours-long hearing last month filled with testimony from fierce opponents, Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin made changes to the city’s plan — leading to a 22-point “Points of Agreement” package that included, as City Limits first reported, additional housing and arts commitments.
“There’s a lot of folks who are unhappy but ultimately [Rivera and Chin] have worked on this for more than a year now and I think they’re happy where things are,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.
The revised proposal will create 3,000 new homes, with 900 of them affordable, according to the Council members.
Part of that construction comes from a new commitment from the city to build 100% affordable housing at two city-owned lots outside of SoHo and NoHo — at 388 Hudson St. in the West Village and on East 5th Street in the East Village.
The city also vowed to coordinate with Washington to potentially develop more affordable housing on federally owned land, according to the plan.
The new housing plan lowers the maximum height of some of the buildings in rezoned streets, and bars the construction of college dorms in the rezoned neighborhoods.
The deal also established a special permit process for future construction of retail with more than 10,000 square footage on narrow streets, and more than 25,000 square-feet on wider streets.
For artists living in units not zoned for housing, the plan also includes a path for legalization, officials said.
The legalization of these residential units, known as Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists, will provide funding for a Downtown SoHo/NoHo Arts Fund.
‘Lipstick on the Proverbial Pig’
During the vote, which passed the measure 43 to 5, Council members reflected on the significance of rezoning the neighborhoods. Rivera said the deal marked a change in the city creating affordable housing only in poorer or middle-class neighborhoods.
“This rezoning will now move us toward a more equitable future where all neighborhoods participate in our ongoing fight against the housing crisis facing this city,” she said.
Chin said she and Rivera fought “very hard to make sure that every single neighborhood, especially the wealthier neighborhoods, with job opportunities, great transit, that they have to do their part to help give opportunity for affordable housing.”
Opponents of the plan said it’s a giveaway to real estate developers and only promises a small percentage of affordable housing while threatening landmarked parts of SoHo.
“The changes wrought by the City Council are lipstick on the proverbial pig,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, which is dedicated to safeguarding the architectural heritage of Greenwich Village, the East Village and NoHo.
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