At Soho rezoning’s 11th hour, housing may be cut

Yimby groups worried about pareback; City Council to vote Thursday

Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera (Getty)
City Council members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera (Getty)

Housing advocates fear that hundreds of prospective homes will be cut in favor of commercial development as Soho and Noho rezoning negotiations wrap up this week.

One group that has opposed the de Blasio administration’s vision for the neighborhoods is pushing to lower the residential density allowed in parts of Noho. It calls for most north Noho residential development to have a floor-area ratio of 7.2, and only 6.0 in a pocket of that area and the historic core of the neighborhood to the south.

The demand is laid out in a memo by the NoHo Bowery Stakeholders. Under the administration’s plan, the FAR in north Noho would be 9.7. Noho’s zoning will ultimately be decided by its City Council member, Carlina Rivera.

The proposed alterations have spooked housing groups, who worry that developers will build commercial projects if the permitted residential density is not high enough.

In upzoned areas, all residential development larger than 12,500 square feet or with more than 10 units must adhere to Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires a percentage of apartments to be affordable — an expense for builders. If the gap between allowable commercial and residential space is negligible, developers may find the former to be the more attractive option.

“Housing is a community benefit in itself. It shouldn’t be bartered away as a negotiating ploy,” said Will Thomas, executive director of Open New York, a yimby group that has called for less commercial space in the rezoning proposal.

As it stands, the Soho and Noho rezoning would allow for commercial space with an FAR between 5 and 10. In the Noho areas highlighted in the memo, the FAR is mostly 5 for commercial. City Planning has pitched reducing commercial FAR in some places, including the Bowery corridor in Noho, from an FAR of 10 to 7. The draft map included in the memo shows the FAR at 10, however.

NoHo Bowery Stakeholders declined to comment.

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Rivera and City Council colleague Margaret Chin, who represents Soho, have raised concerns about the plan, saying the city needs to incentivize more affordable housing than its initial plan does. In a joint letter released in July, both criticized the Department of City Planning’s treatment of the NoHo Bowery Stakeholders and another group.

“While there has unfortunately been a fair share of fear-mongering and disrespect during this discussion, the outright disregard of groups like Cooper Square Committee and NoHo Bowery Stakeholders from DCP is incredibly troubling to us,” the council members wrote.

An aide to Rivera declined to comment Tuesday, noting that negotiations are ongoing. Chin’s office did not return a message seeking comment.

Cooper Square Committee’s Steve Herrick said his organization “supports a more modest increase in density than DCP has proposed” and wants to “see zoning text language that protects the historic districts by not allowing enlargements of buildings that exceed 80 percent lot area coverage.”

The City Council is expected to vote Thursday on the rezoning. The proposal is a priority for the de Blasio administration, billed as the first inclusionary housing rezoning of an affluent Manhattan neighborhood.

Under the current rezoning plan, officials estimate that 1,829 residential units would be created over the next decade, with 382 to 573 of them affordable. In the following 10 years, another 1,719, with 365 to 545 permanently affordable, could be built.