Plan To Upzone and Rezone SoHo and NoHo Announced Details Are Scarce, But Indications Raise Big Concerns and Conflicts of Interest; Local Elected Officials, Citywide Candidates, and Real Estate Interests Back Move

In a surprise move this Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio announced that he intends to propose a rezoning of SoHo and NoHo that would include upzoning certain areas to substantially increase the size of allowable new development. He would also change rules to make it easier for large retail to locate in the neighborhoods. Village Preservation is opposed to upzoning in the area (current rules already allow buildings to rise up to 300 feet or higher) and to changes encouraging larger retail in the area, rather than helping and supporting small and independently-owned businesses.

In addition to the Mayor, local Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents most of the area, has also announced her support for the plan. Mayoral candidates Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have also come out in support of upzoning the area, as has the Real Estate Board of New York.  The Citizens Housing and Planning Council has been a vocal proponent of an upzoning plan. Sitting on their board is Edison Properties, owner of two of the largest development sites in SoHo and NoHo. The company stands to profit tremendously from such changes (not disclosed by CHPC in their report calling for an upzoning), and have given generously to the Mayor’s campaign and now-shuttered Campaign for One New York. Borough President Gale Brewer, who co-sponsored the process which led to this proposal along with Chin and the Mayor, has not stated a position on the proposal, nor have City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Corey Johnson, who represent small sections of the area. 

In addition to the Mayor, local Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents most of the area, has also announced her support for the plan. Mayoral candidates Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have also come out in support of upzoning the area, as has the Real Estate Board of New York.  The Citizens Housing and Planning Council has been a vocal proponent of an upzoning plan. Sitting on their board is Edison Properties, owner of two of the largest development sites in SoHo and NoHo. The company stands to profit tremendously from such changes (not disclosed by CHPC in their report calling for an upzoning), and have given generously to the Mayor’s campaign and now-shuttered Campaign for One New York. Borough President Gale Brewer, who co-sponsored the process which led to this proposal along with Chin and the Mayor, has not stated a position on the proposal, nor have City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Corey Johnson, who represent small sections of the area. 

Lots owned by Edison Properties at Lafayette and Great Jones Street (top) and Centre and Hester Streets (bottom) are among the largest potential development sites in SoHo and NoHo.  Edison stands to make a huge profit from potential zoning changes to the area.

Details of the proposal have not yet been released, but should be revealed at a virtual public meeting on October 26 (time and details TBD) if not before.  Based upon information available thus far, it appears the City is likely to propose substantial upzonings in identified “Housing Opportunity Areas” where new development might be allowed at two or more times the size of what current rules allow, with a requirement that 25% of space in new residential developments qualifies as affordable housing. Upzonings may be proposed in other areas as well. It also appears likely that rules will be changed in “commercial corridors” to make it easier for large retail businesses to locate there.  The Mayor’s announcement also hinted at the possibility of adding contextual zoning, which has height limits, to landmarked parts of the area which currently do not have such regulations, but offered no details.

Map showing outlines of city’s SoHo/NoHo plan; this appeared on the city’s website on Wednesday and has since been removed.

One of the justifications for the proposed upzoning is to require the inclusion of affordable housing in new developments in the area.  But as Village Preservation and others have pointed out, the city could impose such requirements without an upzoning, keeping new development in scale and character with the neighborhood, producing as much or more affordable housing, and fewer luxury condos.  But such an approach would not enrich the real estate interests who are pushing for the upzoning, funding some of the interest groups behind it, and donating generously to the city’s political class.

The 311 ft. tall NoMo SoHo at 9 Crosby Street, built under existing zoning regulations.  Upzoning proponents claim existing zoning is insufficient to accommodate needed development in the area; a survey by Village Preservation identified more than 60 new buildings constructed in the two small areas in recent years.

Mayoral candidates and upzoning advocates have made clear that upzoning SoHo and NoHo is the starting point of a broader effort to seek to upzone other similar neighborhoods.

Any proposal for changing zoning regulations in SoHo and NoHo will have to go through the city’s full land use and review process, involving public hearings and votes by the Community Board, Borough President, City Planning Commission, and City Council.  That process will begin in 2021, with preliminary public meetings and hearings upcoming.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

SAVE THE DATE! There will be public meetings/hearings on this on October 26 (likely evening) and December 3 (likely day) – we’ll provide more details when available.

To see recent media coverage of the Mayor’s SoHo/NoHo announcement, click here and go to “press.”

October 9, 2020