Early this fall the City Planning Commission announced they would be reviewing NoHo Zoning. The process is now underway.
The premise, promoted several years ago by two law firms representing commercial and residential clients, is that the current M1-5B zoning envelope is too restrictive for what has evolved in SoHo and NoHo. Residential use, unless you are a registered artist, is not allowed nor is retail over 10,000sq. ft, unless the building applies for a Board of Standards and Appeals variance or a special permit through the City Planning Commission. Both require community review. A new zoning envelope may not. See Crains and The Real Deal.
While the public review process is helpful in modifying or improving building plans, it is also haphazard – one lot at a time, each with different uses or intentions. Some argue this strategy is detrimental to a neighborhood’s character; that it can attract too much variety that may not fit. A new zoning envelope could, for instance, prohibit hotels, classrooms, dormatories. It could also provide a cap on building heights. The TriBeCa Mixed Use Zoning District is broken into parts, only one allows buildings higher than 120 ft.
What May Change
But with a re-zoning come other features; Zoning for Affordability or Inclusionary Zoning, for instance. With land cost as high as it is in NoHo it is very difficult to build affordable housing without significant mass bonuses or increases in Floor Area Ratios (FAR). Luckily we have only four lots left where new buildings would be considered and the remainder of our buildings are landmarked. The sticky point may come in building additions to higher FAR than our current 5.
And, then, there is the matter of tradition; space set-aside for the exclusive use of artists. NoHo’s character depends heavily on its cache as an enclave for art – fine and performing, design and their creation and manufacture. Our retail offerings depend upon this cache as well.
The push to allow large footprint retail (the old manufacturing or wholesale uses are no longer practical) is of concern primarily along the Broadway Corridor in NoHo. It is more widespread in SoHo where buildings have large footprints even on side streets.
So, where are we now?
Of the 165 lots in M1-5B NoHo, here is a breakdown of current uses:
And here is a breakdown by size of building. For the most part buildings with a footprint greater than 6000sq. ft could be eligible for retail greater than 10,000 sq. ft.
What we do have is a nearly equal proportion of residential and commercial/office buildings, with more office than commercial, which is, at the moment the healthiest mix. Further, the “big box” retail phenomenon is no longer a viable option. Today’s retailers are looking for smaller footprints and store less inventory.
On January 10th there will be the first meeting of the SoHo/NoHo Advisory Group convened by Borough President Gale Brewer, Councilmember Margaret Chin and the City Planning Commission. It will consist of a single member of a dozen or so community stakeholder organizations along with City Planners. We will know better, then, how many concepts are on the table for consideration.
UPDATE: The SoHo/NoHo Advisory Group has 18 participant organizations, many representing community-based stakeholder organizations. The Advisory planned 11 meetings between January 10th and May 23rd, six of them public workshops ending in a Recommendation Report that will be handed to the City Planning Commission (CPC). It is not known how long CPC will take to come up with a proposal that will then trigger the ULURP process.