Soho/NoHo Zoning Discussions

Inner NoHo 2011
NoHo’s M1 5b Zoning, 2011

A group of Soho residents have become increasingly fed up with the neighborhood’s zoning laws, which force some to live illegally and prevent others from selling and refinancing their apartments.  Now, they’re taking matters into their own hands.

Soho real estate attorney Margaret Baisley has convened the first-ever, grassroots group devoted to rezoning the neighborhood, which New York City law still codifies as a “light manufacturing district.”
Aline Reynolds, The Downtown Express, June 1, 2011

What is largely driving the discussion on Tuesday, June 7th, at 6:30pm at St. Anthony of Padua Church (Houston @ Sullivan) is the requirement for artist certification for residency in the M1-5b zones of SoHo and NoHo.   Virtually all of NoHo’s development in the last 15 years has been to residential use, through a Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) application which can over-ride the zoning, and thus makes legal the residents and the Certificate of Occupancy – necessary documentation for banks and mortgages.  Owners in NoHo’s existing A.I.R buildings, who may themselves, be certified artists, will need to find wealthy enough certified artists when they want to sell their property.

For renters in A.I.R. buildings the situation is a little different.  Sean Sweeney, who heads the SoHo Alliance, but who is careful to state he is not speaking for the organization, recently sent out a position paper warning of the ramifications:

If zoning laws no longer required a renter to be a certified artist, there is absolutely nothing stopping an unscrupulous landlord from lying and claiming that he needs the space for himself, and the law would will permit him to evict the tenant.  Such actions are common nowadays throughout the city, as rents soar and landlords can reap a fortune by getting rid of a rent-stabilized tenant, live in the vacated space for a few months, then move out and rent at market prices, reaping a fortune at the expense and misery of the evicted.  

But changing M1-5b zoning has more than this one factor to consider.  A zoning envelope also defines building heights and uses.  NoHo, for instance, is restricted to theaters of 99 seats, it allows as-of-right hotel development, it restricts retail use to 2500 sq. ft. below the level of the second story, it prohibits health facilities unless they are State funded and it prohibits undergraduate classrooms.  There is more, but this offers a bit of insight into the complexity of a zoning change and its ramifications for NoHo.

Other M1 zones have modified their zoning through designation of Special Districts that combine features of manufacturing, artists live-work quarters, with residential and other uses and restrictions tailored to their districts or neighborhoods.  TriBeCa , much of which is landmarked as is NoHo, has, for instance, three Special Districts.

NoHo does need to consider a better zoning envelope.  There is development coming.  Most would agree that we have enough hotels, now.  But, it is unlikely that Tuesday’s discussion or any further proposals this group wishes to float by the Dept of City Planning as a result, will be suitable for NoHo.  That said, if you can make it to Tuesday’s meeting, you should.

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