De Blasio’s Rezoning of SoHo/NoHo Becomes Lame Duck Race to Occupy Community Voice

Posted on: September 9th, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Art Davison

When opponents of the SoHo rezoning staged a protest rally outside Manhattan Borough President’s Gale Brewer’s office, Democratic nominee for city council, Chris Marte, took to the megaphone with a rallying cry urging Brewer to “vote no.”

As previously reported, Brewer didn’t conclusively say “no.” But she didn’t approve the rezoning application, either. Brewer eventually released a statement on the same day as the subsequent City Planning Commission hearing, And it was a firm …maybe.

Brewer’s elusive statement played out masterfully in the press, though. Real estate trade headlines read that the Borough President voted NO, while “housing advocates” lobbying for increased density, claimed Brewer was acting on their advice to lower the allowable commercial density in favor of residential development in the areas.

For now, it does appear that Brewer favors a rezoning within these last days of the de Blasio administration. But if there is a silver lining to the hedge, it’s that the Department of City Planning will now need to revamp the highly criticized plan on their own. Without recommendations from either Community Board 2 or BP Brewer to build on, DCP may actually have do some city planning instead of simply turning the dial on upzoning to 11.

Fear amongst opponents remains that Brewer may return with a last-minute resolution in an attempt to rescue the flawed plan with a compromise negotiated outside of public purview. After all, Brewer is the most experienced and tenured voice on the rezoning, and has deep ties within the arts districts.

Yet, that rally to “save SoHo and NoHo” held on August 23 wasn’t just about Brewer’s vote; residents and community activists also took aim at three-term Councilmember Margaret Chin, who in a recent Politico interview, claimed Chris Marte was dealing in “misinformation,” along with critics of the rezoning.

Term-limited CM Chin, who is in favor of rezoning SoHo, NoHo and parts of Chinatown before her term ends, found herself boxed in by past as well as future District 1 representatives.

Two previous Councilmembers for District 1, both vehemently opposed to the plan joined Chris Marte and local community groups on the grand entrance to 1 Centre Street that day.

Photo: Chris Marte for City Council campaign

Kathryn Freed who served District 1 from 1992 to 2001 and endorsed Chris Marte ahead of the primary, said, “We are the ones who created our communities, their unique character, the very fact that they are residential, is because neighbors banded together to put Lower Manhattan on the map. Now luxury developers want to displace us and build their own vision for this district. We cannot let them.”

Alan Gerson, who directly succeeded Freed and left his District 1 council seat in 2009, called the SoHo rezoning plan “an environmental, neighborhood, and cultural disaster.” Gerson ended with plea for city officials to go back to the table and come up with a true affordable housing solution.

But it’s just not just Chris Marte that represents the future when it comes to land-use deals in city council.  An unprecedented turnover of 36 seats will take place in 2022, and will bring with it the youngest, most female council in New York City history.

In that same Politico interview, councilmember Chin further accused Marte of absence from the rezoning debate stating: “We’ve been working on this for a couple of years already. Where was he?”

The first rezoning meeting in 2019 was chaotic, Photo: Eddie Panta

Anyone remotely familiar with the city’s Envision SoHo/NoHo Plan back in 2019, knows that Chris Marte was a constant presence throughout the two-year long public outreach process. In fact, it was CM Chin who needed to be coaxed out of the crowd to address confused residents at the first public meeting where Marte had to stand up on a chair in order to calm a crowd.

The city’s Uniform Land-Use Review Process is a compartmentalized timeline where the community speaks first and city council last. But in this suspense driven, politically charged ULURP, the timeline has been disrupted by both city officials and electeds, who are now attempting to occupy or reoccupy the community voice component in order to push through de Blasio’s “SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan” before the year end deadline. But for the majority of residents, it appears that the community has already spoken.

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