Three Silos is an approach to rezoning initiated by Shelly Friedman, Esq. for NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders with contributions from Steve Herrick, Cooper Square Committee and Alexandr Neratoff, Architect.
The buildings and issues that the proposed DCP zoning is intended to address are too varied and too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach for SoHo-NoHo’s wide spectrum of building types, uses and occupants and even more so if you consider the inclusion of the west part of Chinatown. Applying as an additional overlay the City-wide urgency for removing land use barriers to housing affordability only deepens these distinctions.
The creation of a Special District is a suitable vehicle for addressing both the area’s uniqueness AND its diversity, provided it recognizes that the end-users comprise a wide range of building owners, tenants, condos and coops, retail and commercial businesses and developers with diverse priorities, all of whom are legitimate stakeholders in the outcome of this proposal and to see their priorities reflected in the adopted Special District.
Throughout the public debate, three overarching principles have emerged that have re-framed the discussion:
- The DCP proposal should establish reasonable development use and bulk regulations for undeveloped or under-utilized sites that will maximize affordability.
- DCP’s proposal should maximize options for existing building owners/lessors to adapt to new market conditions and further contribute to affordability through building modernization, moderate as-of-right retail opportunities and adaptive reuse.
- This proposal should provide an equitable and practical means for transitioning JLWQA units to legal status and to promote the retention of JLWQ units for ongoing SoHo-NoHo maker use.
We believe that the path for successfully incorporating these three principles into the current DCP proposal rests on re-framing the discussion to recognize (without ranking) three major categories of stakeholders, accepting that there are subsets galore and that at times the lines easily blur.
- Silo #1: Developers seeking to build new developments on vacant or significantly under-utilized sites.
- Silo #2: The owners with sites with existing (and largely overbuilt) buildings for lease – largely commercial office or retail with some mixed JLWQA.
- Silo #3: The coops and condos; rent-stabilized JLWQA/IMD Lessees
Silo #1: Developers seeking to build new developments on vacant or significantly under-utilized sites.
There are few such sites in the proposal area, requiring little more than a remapping that will establish the zoning districts in which to permit new as-of-right residential and restricted commercial developments, accompanied by specific special district text to assign the customary categories of use and bulk requirements applied in most special districts.
In NoHo, the greatest potential for new development and affordable units, whether on site or remote in CB2 or CB3, is in the middle of the neighborhood, and in the middle of three landmarked districts, surrounded by 12 individually landmarked buildings. It is also in a section where existing stock has 80% lot coverage. In light of its potential contribution, we feel this area needs special considerations.
Currently the north-east corner of NoHo is marked for the highest density, but there is little to no opportunity to realize ANY affordable development.
- An MIH designation setting the amount of required affordable, including a requirement to provide affordable housing in connection with new commercial development to undercut any perceived disincentive to pursue residential development.
- Provision for as-of-right retail ground floor +1 (or +2) based on stated performance standards that can be used to establish as-of-right new retail or retail expansion. Large retail that cannot comply with the performance standards will require a special permit. This will allow developers and existing building owners (See Silo #2) to plan on and market a predictable retail envelope rather than the current “roll the dice” experience after months of negotiations with a prospective tenant.
- An option for developers to pursue other socially positive outcomes available only in the new development silo: POPS plazas or dedicated maker space, in lieu of or in reduction of affordable mandates.
Some Suggested Bulk Revisions for New Development
- Within Historic Districts: R8A equivalent, max height, including MIH, 145’ to 150’ with contextually appropriate street walls and set-backs.
- For Side Streets in Historic Districts and along Lafayette St. up to Great Jones,
Centre, Baxter, Howard: C6-2A overlay (Limits commercial to 2 FAR).
- For Broadway and Bowery: – No commercial overlay limits on the eventual envelope.
- For Broadway, Lafayette (Great Jones St. North to Astor Place), Bowery and Canal, Use Group 10 with performance standards.
Residential Tenant Protections
- Anti-Harassment Provisions Are Needed: Buildings in Silo 1 areas need to be included in the Certificate of No Harassment Program which would require owners who plan to alter or demolish a building or obtain a new C of O, owners of buildings that have received a vacate order, to submit an affidavit stating that they have not harassed any of their tenants in that building in the past 5 years. HPD must then investigate whether this is the case. If HPD determines there’s reason to believe harassment occurred, a case is brought before the Office of Administrative trials and Hearings (OATH). Based on the findings of the hearing, HPD can provide a CONH or deny it.
- Anti-Demolition Provisions are Needed: DCP needs to include language in the zoning text that prevents the demolition of structurally sound buildings in the housing opportunity zones. If a building is structurally unsound and needs to be demolished, the zoning text should require property owners who demolish their building to provide temporary housing to displaced tenants and to provide rent stabilized tenants with apartments in the newly built mixed income building so that there’s no net loss of rent regulated affordable units.
Silo #2: Property owners with sites with existing and largely overbuilt buildings for lease office or retail with some mixed JLWQA.
- Existing building’s sites also need rules for ground-floor (or more) retail based on performance standards (See Silo #1).
- Create a mechanism for building-wide or partial conversion to mixed use that will require some form of affordable commitment.
- Initiate interagency discussion with DOB to simplify conversion of existing UG 17 uses to residential or commercial uses through adaptive re-use. (See Silo 3)
- Adopt controls on intra-building mixed uses in special district text.
Silo #3: The coop and condo JLWQA and rent-stabilized/IMD Lessees
This is the emotion-laden Silo because unlike Silos #1 and #2 these stakeholders are dealing with their homes and most likely one of the most significant investments in their lifetimes.
The reality is that all of the complex and conflicting toxic elements that have embroiled the community reside in this space: 7A, JLWQ conversion, property assessments, coop/condo board approvals, revisions to certificate of occupancy, artists certifications, the exit tax/fee into an art fund, DOB process, etc. Some of these elements may seem intractable due to DCP’s jurisdictional limitations, but they cannot be allowed to lay waste to the opportunities for progress in the other silos for intelligent land use planning and the promotion of housing affordability.
The practical need for JLWQA’s and residential uses to co-exist in a single building inspires a solution:
JLWQA and General Residential spaces are subject to incompatible zoning rules and requirements: the process may not be possible in many buildings and may require converting one into another within a single building, or adding new residential space to the top, is made theoretically possible, but regulatory contradictions undermine their co-existence.
Getting a new C of O is very expensive and might reveal building-wide problems and require coop or condo upgrades that a unit owner might not want to pay for. Would the coop assume such costs just so a unit owner would qualify for market-rate mortgages?
This issue’s resolution must not have to trigger a difficult or expensive C of O change – basically, JLWQAs would have to be made almost interchangeable with an unrestricted, non-artist use, or simply JLWQ. This can be done by:
- Altering the zoning definition of artist (possibly restated also at the New York State level), a zoning text change and something that can be done within this new Special District.
- Existing JLWQAs are legal and there is no reason why they cannot continue to exist or be “made” as before, by conversion (but avoiding the MDL 1,200 SF minimum) or even be allowed to be created “new” in post-1961 floor area, in even 100% new construction.
We are in favor of a SoHo-NoHo Special Mixed Use District, with these modifications.