City Council Approves SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown Upzoning + Displacement Plan

Hard-Fought-For Changes Will Blunt Some of Worst Elements of Plan, which Remains Giant Real Estate Giveaway

Rally with Village Preservation signs at SoHo/NoHo meeting

Late yesterday the City Council voted 43 to 5 to approve the revised version of the Mayor’s SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown Upzoning + Displacement plan. As we previously reported, after months of fighting, the plan was modified to eliminate or lessen some of the worst elements, with elimination of allowances for private university development, lowered size of allowable commercial development in some areas (by up to 50%, maintaining current limits in some spots), lowered height limits in some areas as compared to what the Mayor proposed, lower overall size of allowable development in a few spots, and some limits on the previously proposed unlimited size of big-box chain stores and eating and drinking establishments.

But the plan remained a giant giveaway to real estate interests with the promise that a fraction of that will be returned to the public as new affordable housing. However, analysis shows that in most of the locations where the plan’s proponents predict affordable housing will be built, the revised rezoning still makes it more lucrative to build without affordable housing, making the inclusion of such housing unlikely on most sites. It does, however, encourage oversized commercial development on too many sites with the possibility of up to 25,000 sq ft of luxury condos per zoning lot, and the destruction of historic buildings, many of which contain rent-regulated affordable housing and small businesses, displacing them and their mostly lower-income and disproportionately senior, artist, and Asian American residents. Local City Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera brokered the deal, which was supported by Corey Johnson. See all the changes and final allowances HERE

Councilmembers Chin, Rivera, and Johnson

In the final hours of deal-making, several “Points of Agreement” between the City Council and Mayor were issued. These mostly involve unrelated projects outside the rezoning area, previously standing agreements repackaged as new ones, vague promises that future administrations may or may not fulfill, and promises to “explore” options that may or may not ever pan out. This includes an agreement to build 100 units of 100% affordable housing on the northern half of city-owned DEP water tunnel site at 388 Hudson Street at Clarkson Street (a site the city had previously refused to consider for affordable housing as an alternative to demolishing the Elizabeth Street Garden, with which they are proceeding, and which had been promised to the community as a park decades ago), as well as a new affordable housing development on a police parking lot site on East 5th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. 

It also involves a promise to “explore” affordable housing development opportunities on the site of the Cooper Station Post Office at 4th Avenue and 12th Street, and TriBeCa’s Canal Station Post Office at Church and Canal Streets (the letter fails to acknowledge that both sites sold their air rights for adjacent oversized developments more than a dozen years ago, and that at the time the City went to court to allow the Cooper Station development to proceed, arguing that the sale of air rights was legally binding and wouldn’t allow further development on that site).

Cooper Station Post office with the oversized NYU dorm behind it, built with its air rights (left), and the Canal Station Post Office, with the large hotel on its right built with its air rights. 

Village Preservation was joined by a broad coalition of housing justice, tenants rights, labor, Chinatown, environmental, neighborhood and preservation groups in urging the Council to reject the revised plan — we owe a great debt of gratitude to all of these groups and the many others that joined in this fight. Village Preservation provided information and data to all of the five Councilmembers who voted against the plan, and met with several of them to discuss the plan’s deep flaws and the better alternatives we proposed. The five dissenting members were Ben Kallos, Carlos Menchaca, Robert Holden, Inez Barron, and Kalman Yeger. 

Top row: Councilmembers Kallos, Menchaca, and Holden; bottom row: Councilmembers Barron and Yeger, and Councilmember-elect Marte

We must acknowledge the leadership and work of Councilmember-elect Christopher Marte in opposing this plan and working so closely with us and other neighborhood leaders. The entire process was timed to ensure that Marte would not have a direct say in the outcome.

Speaker Johnson both voted in favor of the plan (and was thanked several times by Councilmembers Chin and Rivera for his support in this effort) and refused to meet with advocates opposed to the plan.

Borough President Gale Brewer was one of the co-initiators of the process that led to the rezoning — a process that we said from the beginning was designed to approve a massive upzoning and developer giveaway and to allow giant big-box chain stores. After helping to unleash this monster, Brewer refrained from either endorsing or opposing the plan, and withdrew from the process without even issuing a formal recommendation. 

Borough President Brewer

State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who represents most of the area, and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, who represents a few blocks, were notably absent from the debate, in spite of repeated entreaties by their constituents to get involved. 

Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Niou

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney came out strongly against the plan at first, often condemning it in the strongest of terms. However, as the process moved to the City Council, and the plan was amended by their colleagues Councilmembers Chin and Rivera, they grew noticeably silent, not responding to repeated requests to testify or write to the City Council about the vast and serious ongoing problems with the revised plan. Assemblymember Glick issued a tweet expressing skepticism about the Mayor’s affordable housing promises. 

Assemblymember Glick, Senator Hoylman, Congressmembers Nadler and Maloney

We thank all those who stood with us throughout this process to fight and change this plan. Your efforts made a truly disastrous plan by the Mayor somewhat less awful, somewhat less oversized, and somewhat more likely to result in some, if not most, of the promised affordable housing being created.

However, to be clear, the plan still allows vastly oversized development without a single unit of affordable housing to be built. As an illustration, we rendered what the rezoning would allow to be built at 46 Cooper Square, near 7th Street, without a single unit of affordable housing. 

And the plan will vastly increase pressure on long-time rent-regulated tenants, whom unscrupulous landlords and developers will now seek to remove from their homes in order to take advantage of the enormous windfall just given to them by the Mayor and the City Council, to demolish their buildings and construct vastly larger ones. And the rezoning will put added pressure on smaller, locally focused, independent, and arts-related businesses, who will have trouble competing for space with the giant big-box destination retail chains that the rezoning now makes legal throughout the rezoning area. 

December 16, 2021