Soho and Noho rezoning moves forward despite lawsuit

City Planning Commission certified rezoning application

Soho and Marisa Lago (iStock, Dept. of City Planning)
Soho and Marisa Lago (iStock, Dept. of City Planning)

The proposal to rezone Soho and Noho is moving forward, despite a lawsuit claiming the plan cannot proceed if the city doesn’t host in-person hearings.

The City Planning Commission on Monday certified the application to rezone the neighborhoods, officially kickstarting the public land use review process. The timing of the certification means the rezoning could make it through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure before the end of the de Blasio administration, as long as it doesn’t face further delays.

The proposal would apply to 56 blocks in the neighborhood, eliminating restrictions that permit only light manufacturing use on ground floors. It could also pave the way for more than 3,500 residential units, of which as many as 1,118 could be set aside as affordable. (The city has identified only 26 sites that are likely to be developed in the next 10 years, which would yield an estimated 1,829 units, of which 382 to 573 would be affordable.)

The de Blasio administration has argued that the neighborhoods’ zoning rules are woefully outdated, leading to a flood of special permits for uses largely associated with the area — namely, retail and residential.

But some community groups have argued that the proposal is a giveaway to developers that will result in large-scale luxury buildings and an invasion of big-box retailers.

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Last month, the Soho Alliance, Broadway Residents Coalition and individual residents of the neighborhoods filed a lawsuit seeking to block the rezoning. The complaint alleges that the mayor was exploiting the pandemic to rush the proposal through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, while wrongfully denying the community in-personal meetings. A similar lawsuit was filed to stop the Gowanus rezoning, claiming that Ulurp proceedings can’t be held virtually under city rules, despite city and state orders suspending public meeting rules during the pandemic.

Despite the legal challenge, Judge Arthur Engoron declined to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the rezoning from proceeding, saying community groups fighting the proposal failed to show “immediate and irreparable harm.” At the time, however, City Planning decided to hold off on certifying the rezoning application, saying that it was finalizing the proposal.

On Friday, an attorney for the Soho groups asked Engoron to hold an emergency hearing on his clients’ request for a TRO and preliminary injunction to halt the rezoning application. The attorney, Jason Zakai, argues in the letter that the judge’s finding that no “immediate and irreparable harm” existed was based on the city’s decision to pause certification. The circumstances have since changed, Zakai wrote, because City Planning decided to move forward with certification prior to a scheduled June 3 hearing without giving adequate notice and details on the proposal.

“Certification of DCP’s SoHo/NoHo plan is tainted with illegality and an utter lack of transparency, as the city tries to rush forward with its plan before the mayor’s term expires,” said Zakai, who also represented the community groups in the Gowanus case. “We look forward to having our day in court on June 3rd.”

Under a recent change in the City Charter, City Planning is required to post a detailed summary of a project on its website at least 30 days before certifying a Ulurp application, in addition to notifying the borough president and community boards. The application was labeled “noticed” last month on City Planning’s website, which signals that the agency will seek to certify a proposal within 30 days.

City Planning’s method of precertification notification was also criticized in the lawsuit seeking to stop the Gowanus rezoning. In that case, the judge allowed the city to release the rezoning application ahead of certification and only permitted the rezoning to move forward after the city agreed to arrange for a hybrid outdoor and virtual community board hearing.