So Long SoHo, Hello Mega-SoHo
The public review process has begun on the city’s downtown rezoning effort, now dubbed the “SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan.” If you, like many residents, haven’t checked back into these plans amidst the pandemic, now is certainly the time!
While the initial strategy detailed by the Envision Soho/NoHo Report focused on retail permits and overall quality of life in these neighborhoods, at risk now is not just SoHo’s famed historic district, nor the legality of non-artist residency. The lame duck Mayor’s last-minute gambit before his term ends on December 31 has expanded into a massive upzoning that could impact residents, workers, and businesses in Downtown Manhattan for decades to come.
Over 56 blocks – including Little Italy, the Bowery, and large swaths of Chinatown – will be upzoned in the new, expanded plan. Local activists, however, believe the increase in building heights will usher in a new wave of commercial office towers, big box chain stores, and even institutional development, namely NYU.
Leading the charge to raise awareness of this sudden shift in plans are Village Preservation, SoHo Alliance, Broadway Residence Coalition, and Chinatown Working Group, along with a host of local and citywide neighborhood organizations. All are united in coalition against de Blasio’s rezonings, based on the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program which the groups claim is a faulty 1970s-era “affordable housing” scheme with many loopholes and not enough housing. Even the Gowanus opposition groups have joined in solidarity to not just stop what is now being referred to as the “last-minute, lame duck rezoning,” but also to reform the Uniform Land-Use Process itself. The groups have united under the charge that the city’s public review doesn’t represent the community voice and has been co-opted by developers as well as empty “social justice” rhetoric by the Department of City Planning.
Village Preservation posed a triple-threat to the Mayor’s plan last week, raising awareness to the massive upzoning on a radio interview on WBAI’s “Living For the City,” along with Sean Sweeny from SoHo Alliance, a District 1 Candidate Forum, and a presentation before Community Board 2, all in the same day.
Village Preservation will undoubtedly receive pushback, as being biased is the nonprofit’s mandate in advocating to preserve historic neighborhoods. But the displacement de Blasio’s last-minute rezoning could cause has been grossly underreported and candidates running for public office aren’t exactly championing the cause along the campaign trail.
Further, Village Preservation’s data-driven reports provide residents the most realistic view of the process. Deputy Mayor Vicki Been and DCP spokesperson Sylvia Li have been leading the public relations campaign with a social justice agenda without being transparent about the worst-case scenario in terms of actual affordable housing and the potential for displacement for all the neighborhoods impacted by the rezoning. Not to mention claims that both the Covid-19 pandemic and the BLM protest mean the city’s past plans for a taller, more dense city is just what the future ordered.
“This will make SoHo whiter, wealthier, and more expensive,” Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, argued in a virtual Town Hall info session. Over 200 attended included Manhattan Borough President candidates Brad Hoylman and Ben Kalos, who both vehemently oppose the rezoning. Borough President candidate Lindsay Boylan, who has vast experience in city planning, has also come out against the rezoning.
But you know that there is something wrong with the city’s plan when the majority, if not all, the candidates vying to replace Councilmember Margaret Chin come out in opposition to the rezoning.
Lower East Side Preservation Initiative and Village Preservation’s co-hosted a District 1 Candidate Forum held last Wednesday where all 7 candidates in attendance opposed de Blasio’s Soho/Noho upzoing plan.
Councilmember candidate Christopher Marte not only opposed the rezoning due to the potential displacement factor, but also revisited the city’s “sham” initial public engagement in 2019. Gigi Li, who was a co-sponsor of that process at the time as Chief of Staff to Margaret Chin, is also running and appeared on the forum but did not discuss the public engagement process that is now widely perceived as being a “bait-and-switch” tactic by the city to glean public opinion without stating intent. Li who has referred to the MIH program as “housing Justice” on social media, flip-flopped at the forum by saying that she is opposed to rezoning the historic district but remains in favor of MIH.
Boogie will follow up with all the District 1 candidates in terms of the rezoning including Chris Marte, Gigi Li, Susan Lee, Jenny Low, Maud Maron, Susan Damplo, and Tiffany Winbush, Denny Salas and Sean Hayes.