BP Brewer Keeps Residents in Suspense as City Pushes Ahead with SoHo/NoHo Rezoning

Posted on: September 3rd, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Chris Marte for City Council campaign

Opponents of the City’s SoHo NoHo Neighborhood Plan descended upon City Planning  Commission headquarters yesterday, rallying outside 120 Broadway before testifying against the de Blasio administration’s last minute effort to rezone SoHo, NoHo, and parts of Chinatown and Little Italy.

Anticipating crowds, CPC secured two overflow rooms to provide safe,  in-person testimony. In the end, though, subway delays due to Tropical Ida flash flooding prevented any need for the additional space.

Still, the elephant in the nearly empty waiting room remained the missing recommendation from Borough President Gale Brewer, who has been silent on the issue since holding her own hearing last week.

Since then, residents have been in rapt anticipation for an “approve” or “disapprove”  on the contentious rezoning effort from Brewer, slated to depart her Borough President post to take up a seat in her home City Council District at the end of the year.

Yet both the testimony and statement by the outgoing Borough President left anxious residents with more questions than answers – not to mention confused – over the BP’s use of the words “we” or “I,” during her virtual testimony before CPC yesterday.

Brewer said that in speaking for herself, she “wanted to get to a situation where there is affordable housing, where there is rezoning, where the historic district is maintained, where tenants do not have to lose their apartments, and where I would agree with the previous speaker (Cornelia of the NoHo BID); we should not be incentivizing commercial development over residential.”

Brewer went on to say that “between now and when [CPC] votes and when the City Council votes, we all need to come up with something that is different.” But what that entails wasn’t part of her testimony or statement.

Despite the fact that it has been two years and some 25 hearings since Brewer’s office initiated the rezoning effort with the Envision SoHo/NoHo Plan, the Borough President appears to still be at ground level on negotiations of the most basic elements of the rezoning.

The full testimony by Gale Brewer can be seen here at the 3:43:20 mark.

Brewer continues to build suspense in the rezoning effort without providing the long overdue resolution. Meanwhile, both residents and Community Board members who took a firm stance in opposition to the rezoning, have been vilified as NIMBYS and even vaguely referred to as racists by CPC  director Anita Laremont in a pre-hearing testimony on August 30.

But these same residents, who were accused of “abusive comments” did not have the luxury of holding back their opinions or hopes and desires during the Envision SoHo/NoHo process back in January of 2019, which the Borough President initiated and sponsored and is now using to further the rezoning. Today, those cards taken from that proverbial “community chest” are still in play, while city electeds continue to hold theirs back.

 

Brewer’s testimony and subsequent statement didn’t deliver a conclusive yes or no, but ensures two outcomes: she will likely lean heavily on Business Improvement Districts (NoHo BID, and SoHo Broadway Initiative), and that she favors rezoning during the waning days of the de Blasio administration, despite the fact that many other elected officials including State Assembly Member Deborah Glick, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Rep Jerry Nadler, and Democratic Nominee for District 1, Christopher Marte, whose voice never wavered on the issue, have advised to wait until the new City Council is seated in 2022. A Council that Brewer herself will be part of.

While there was convincing testimony from both sides at the CPC hearing, the main takeaway is that the last-minute rezoning  has devolved into culture wars and identity politics.that distracts from the hard fact that the rezoning puts all historic districts in the city at risk of overdevelopment.

Brewer’s hedge represents a lack of  leadership, and maintains the narrative of suspense and false hope that the Department of City Planning has been imploring since the rezoning effort began in 2019.

It remains unclear whether BP Brewer will indeed return with a professional resolution or whether this hedge sets up a last-minute (or potential back-room) deal where it will be too late for the community to react. Yet the timing of the hearing just before the Labor Day holiday, and the avoidance Councilwoman Margaret Chin to address the rezoning both during and after the election cycle is not giving residents much confidence in a transparent public review process.

A previous version of the article included a cropped image of the CPC rally shot by Renee Monrose, but incorrectly attributed to author Eddie Panta. We regret the error.

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