A new Soho and Noho: City Planning OK’s rezoning to add housing

Sweeping change now heads to City Council for final vote

From left: Andrew Berman of Village Preservation and New York City Council members Margaret Chin & Carlina Rivera (The New York City Council, iStock)
From left: Andrew Berman of Village Preservation and New York City Council members Margaret Chin & Carlina Rivera (The New York City Council, iStock)

The future of Soho and Noho is now up to the City Council.

The City Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a high-profile proposal to rezone the neighborhoods, largely to allow for more residential and ground-floor retail. The proposal covers 56 blocks in the neighborhoods, largely zoned for manufacturing use — despite the area’s reputation as a prime retail destination.

Ahead of the vote, Chair Anita Laremont said the plan “significantly expands equity and inclusivity goals,” citing the projected creation of more than 1,000 affordable apartments through the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.

Soho is one of the whitest and most expensive neighborhoods in the city, and the de Blasio administration believes the rezoning will help diversify it.

The proposal passed unanimously, though Commissioner Ann Levin noted concern that the rezoning could lead to too much commercial development and does not provide enough protection for historical districts and certified-artist living quarters in the area. She said she is hopeful, however, that the City Council will address these issues.

The rezoning area’s two City Council members, Carlina Rivera and Margaret Chin, will ultimately decide its fate.

The Department of City Planning has suggested reducing commercial space by lowering the proposed floor area ratio from 10 to 8 in the southeast end of the Soho rezoning and to 7 in the northeast section. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who prefers new housing to office projects, has said those tweaks were not enough to curb future commercial development. Those concerns were echoed by pro-housing group Open New York on Wednesday.

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“We’re delighted to see the @NYCPlanning Commission unanimously vote to approve the SoHo/NoHo rezoning — the case for mixed-income housing is clear as day,” the group tweeted. “But @CM_MargaretChin & @CarlinaRivera should still push for lower office densities and deep affordability in the final plan!”

Under the rezoning, an estimated 1,829 residential units would be created over the next decade, with 382 to 573 set aside as affordable in accordance with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. About 71,000 square feet of retail and 21,000 square feet of community facility space could be built during that time.

After 10 years, another 1,719 housing units, including 365 to 545 permanently affordable, could be built on 58 other potential sites.

Opponents of the rezoning, led by Village Preservation, argue that the rezoning will lead to an influx of luxury residential towers, displace rent-stabilized tenants and attract big-box retailers.

But very little displacement of residents was forecast by the final environmental impact statement’s assessment of the reasonable worst case scenarios of the plan. It found that development resulting from the rezoning could displace at most 60 people across 32 units by 2031. It could also displace 57 businesses with an estimated 590 jobs. Village Preservation produced its own report, predicting vastly greater displacement.

City Planning commissioners on Wednesday also approved a text amendment that will require special permits for all new hotel construction. It also greenlit Howard Hughes Corporation’s planned 270-unit residential building at 250 Water Street, which has survived legal challenges from locals and scrutiny by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

But the developer has not yet worked out a mechanism for it to provide $50 million to the Seaport Museum. Brewer and Chin have made clear that their support is contingent on the funding. The developer is also in talks with Pace University about replacing some of the project’s office space with a community theater, according to City Planning officials. A spokesperson for Pace, Marie Boster, denied the college is negotiating with Howard Hughes.

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