Evolving NoHo…There’s a case for re-envisioning, but the issues are complex…
SAVE THE DATE: Thurs., 6/13 @ 6:00 PM – 8:15 PM, Scholastic Building, 130 Mercer St.
ENVISION SOHO NOHO PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT EVENT: Presentation of Preliminary Recommendations.
There are two core issues among the many in evolving NoHo that concern ALL stakeholders:
- How to maintain and ensure our creative distinction as a neighborhood of cultural workers and creative enterprise?
- How to expand commercial uses that are compatible with a residential majority when so many of our buildings are increasingly dependent on commercial/retail income?
What Are We, Really
NoHo has been present at 15 meetings, Advisory Group and Focus Groups, three Public Workshops and an Open House since January 10th. We have poured over volumes of available data, zoning details and testimonies of individuals from every facet of M1-5B stakeholding. NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders compiled an updated census of the 165 lots and the 1,091 units that comprise the M1-5B section of NoHo, including all current Certificates of Occupancy. It is very clear that we are not a Manufacturing District and that for some time we have solidified our identity as a Mixed Use District.
Our distinction as an exclusively art manufacturing district is also eroding, largely due to the impermanent statutes that were put in place in 1971 designating our manufacturing as Joint Living Working Quarters for Artists. Initially an area of depressed potential, where artists could buy-in at low rent or building value and handle the costs of improvements, there was never any incentive to maintain artist affordability, though the requirement that a unit be inhabited by a Registered Artist remains.
In fact, after extensive examination of the Certificates of Occupancy for these buildings, it is doubtful that a majority of NoHo’s JLWQA units are currently inhabited by an artist acceptable to the Department of Cultural Affairs definition, never mind already certified. There is, too, a growing number of fully legal residential buildings (now at 15%) occupy our neighborhood as a result of an approved Special Permit and/or Board of Standards and Appeals Variance, many of which are also live-work in nature but without a certified artist.
Evolution May Be a Necessity
Then, there is the issue of maintaining buildings that, because they are landmarked, have limitations (and expense) other than zoning-related requirements. These factors added to the increase in tax rates severely affect JLWQA building owners now more dependent on their commercial/retail lesees. It is no longer reasonable to expect a manufacturer or wholesaler can afford the rents these buildings now command. On the cusp is office use, though few are attracted to our plentiful ground-floor spaces.
A majority, 55%, of our buildings already have legal C6 (commercial) uses; but there are size/bulk restrictions that don’t allow more than 10,000sq. ft. below the level of the second floor, or for restaurants, more than 5,000 sq. ft. There is a healthy market for 1,500 to 5,000 sq ft. retail, but 20% of NoHo’s buildings have footprints greater than 6,000sq. ft.; a groundfloor and cellar retail space easily amounts to 10,000 sq. ft. Buildings with residential tenants shun retail above ground-floor levels as an intrusion on their private space.
What do we think should fill these ground-floor spaces? Even if they are somehow subdivided (and LPC approved), the regulations still classify the total space used – even by multiple entities – as 10,000+ sq. ft. At the core of the many objections to any commercial uses, however, are the quality-of-life issues that larger retail and food & beverage establishments present to a truly mixed use neighborhood: hauling, deliveries, HVAC impacts, lighting, pedestrian traffic. The envisioning Advisory Board has put special attention to these impacts.
To see what is currently allowed in M1 Districts and what other use groups are possible see: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/zoning/zoning-text/appendixa.pdf?r=0122
There are nine areas of focus gleaned from stakeholder participation in the Public Workshops. It is worth mentioning that the majority of stakeholders attending these workshops have been residential. In an attempt to get a broader perspective focus groups of 10-12 stakeholders have also been held representing Co-Op/Condo owners (balanced artists and non-artists); Business owners (balanced small and large); Artists (certified and non-certified); building owners and real estate managers (large and small).
Among the concepts considered for further definition, as found in the above link to the May 2nd workshop are:
- Maintain, enforce and strengthen existing protections for residents including renters and those in rent regulated units.
- Support and promote the artist and cultural worker community.
Develop pathways to “legalize” non-artist residents while maintaining opportunities for live-work in those units; Allow new types of live-work while maintaining existing JLWQA. (This will require NYS legislation.)
Ensure height, scale and density (FAR) of new buildings are in context with existing historic buildings and neighborhood built environment.
Provide predictable zoning rules for commercial uses, not excluding manufacturing, such as retail and local services of appropriate scale.
Improve quality of life of residents, workers and businesses in the SoHo/NoHo mixed-use environment – Pedestrian and Vehicular Traffic, Sanitation, Loading and Unloading Zones, Noise, Lighting. (Here, it is interesting to note that City departments still classify NoHo and SoHo as a manufacturing zone void of residential and tourist impacts.)