Chaotic SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Meeting Leaves Locals Guessing

Posted on: February 8th, 2019 at 5:00 am by

Department of City Planning, Councilwoman Chin, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer together just launched a plan to examine the unique zoning of SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods. Be afraid; real estate speculation can’t be too far behind.

The official mission statement of this politically-charged endeavor expresses how the process is meant to “examine key land use and zoning issues in the two neighborhoods and seek community input to develop strategies to both honor SoHo/NoHo’s history and ensure the continued vitality of the neighborhoods.”

Regarding the latter, a public engagement process is currently underway to glean hyperlocal data from the community regarding housing, jobs, retail, and creative industries. The first such session was an “open house” in Chinatown two nights ago (143 Baxter Street). Promised as a forum for sharing, the Wednesday evening meeting instead devolved into chaos.


The room was packed, hot, and facilitators were quickly overwhelmed with questions. Looking for real civic engagement, locals found themselves unwitting participants in what seemed a planning process without speakers or a clear agenda. The hand-out sheet from DCP, Chin, and Brewer’s office defined this “plan” in only the vaguest and broadest terms, and didn’t contain the word “zoning” or “rezoning.” Ironically, stakeholders were implored to divulge opinions or suggestions, yet had no idea what was really at stake.

So what was this plan? And who was in charge here?

An unknown moderator, Jonathan Martin, a Professor of Planning at Pratt, took to the center of the room and attempted to gain control of the crowd. Martin would later reveal that he was hired as a private contractor to help coordinate the lengthy and complicated planning process. Councilwoman Chin remained a face in the crowd as her constituents demanded to know if she was even present or whether she would speak.

Himself unsure if Chin was present, Martin continued to reassure the community that “the planning process did not have any predetermined outcome.” The skeptical crowd didn’t appear reassured. Finally, the councilwoman stepped into the circle of confusion: “We want to know what changes YOU want,” Chin yelled without a mic.

Chris Marte, Committeeman of 65th Assembly District

“We don’t want any changes!” one life-long resident shouted back.

“But we’re all sick and tired of reviewing Special Permits, this is only the first step,” Chin reassured the crowded room.

But a first step toward what?

Late to the party, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, walked into the room and quickly realized a mutiny was afoot. Soon enough, she shouted from a tabletop to help assuage fears with a direct message: Brewer insisted that much of the “plan” was also in large part to preserve the neighborhoods’ historic integrity and community of artists.

Yet, her direct plea did little to quell the confusion.

Sensing an overwhelming distrust in the process, former City Council Candidate and current State Committeeman, Chris Marte, stood up on a table, introduced himself, and addressed the room directly. Holding up a sheet, he suggested that people sign-up to convene their own meeting – without outside influence or private contractors – something that would run concurrent with the City’s Planning Process so as to assure that the community voice or brain trust wouldn’t be co-opted or misrepresented.

In the end, the planners regained control of the room and attendees began to post notes to the boards, but by then, many had already left.

Recent Stories

A Scene, Unseen: LES Music Venues, Musicians Stay Visible Despite Closures

By the time this article is published, 11 weeks of self-isolation will have passed. It’s been 11 weeks since many of us have gone to work, since grocery stores have felt safe, and since handshakes have felt friendly. And those are only the most banal, everyday changes. When it comes to the moments we share […]

Lower East Side Businesses Boarded up their Storefronts Amidst Citywide Looting

When the pandemic hit, it was mainly the luxury stores in SoHo that began boarding up the windows for fear of looting. It’s now a reality in the atmosphere following the controversial death of George Floyd, an African American man who died in Minneapolis police custody. For days, looters took to the streets, oftentimes piggybacking off […]

Chinatown Mom-and-Pops Hit by Vandals and Looting [PHOTOS]

The rioting and violence has clouded (and overwhelmed) the national protest movement formed in response to the controversial death of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops last month. It’s what dominates the narrative now. And no neighborhood is immune. Chinatown was also hard hit by looters this week. Mom-and-pop shops Buy Rite Pharmacy (215 Grand Street) […]

Protest Violence: LES Small Businesses Vandalized

A fifth night of protests spilled onto lower Orchard Street yesterday, as several businesses were vandalized. The Roasting Plant coffee shop, R&D (formerly Brigitte) on Canal street, and the Alexander Olch boutique, were all hit. Shattered windows and looting. It’s unclear what was taken from each store. With regard to Olch’s store, vandals tagged it […]

Scenes from the Looted Streets of Downtown [PHOTOS]

A weekend of violent protests and looting – fueled by the death of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis cops – left downtown Manhattan charred and shattered. Businesses in SoHo up to Union Square were some of the hardest hit. Boogie contributor Eddie Panta was eyewitness to the smash-and-grab bedlam. Part I: The Nike Store […]