SoHo, NoHo, Rezoning is a NoNo
Many New Yorkers aren’t keen on the rezoning of SoHo and NoHo, two affluent neighborhoods that are slated for the latest major changes in development within the City. The zoning changes were passed in a 43 – 5 vote by the City Council at the end of DeBlasio’s term in mid-December, 2021. The changes are aimed at creating more affordable and diversified housing options, as well as creating more retail opportunities. Additionally, the plan is to maintain historical integrity and character. However, news of the rezoning has not been received well, and several lawsuits have ensued.
Fresh Lawsuits Ensue Over Soho and NoHo Rezoning
Although a Council member representing SoHo and Chinatown has said they are ready for a change after over 50 years of the same zoning laws, residents filed suit against the city and the Department of City Planning in February. The group, called the Coalition for Fairness in SoHo and NoHo, contends that the rezoning is unconstitutional, and additionally is in violation of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, known as the City Environmental Quality Review.
The attorney for the Coalition, Jack Lester, wrote in a statement the following: “This rezoning is a land grab by big developers disguised as redistribution of wealth. It violates the constitutional rights of the city’s longtime residents including the elderly, retirees, artists, and working families.” They also contend that there won’t be as many affordable units created as the city is predicting and will allow developers to demolish low-rise historical buildings to build high-rise luxury apartments and retail stores. The group has a court date of June 3rd of this year.
Newest Opposition: NYU Lawsuit
Now, the City faces yet another lawsuit filed by the New York University (NYU) that also challenges the rezoning by citing unconstitutionality of New York State’s Constitution. Apparently, there was a provision added at the last minute that specifically excludes colleges and universities from expansion or development within the new SoHo-NoHo zoning law. The NYU lawsuit is only concerned with this provision of the law, and does not oppose the rest of it.
NYU says although it does not have plans for any additions or expansions currently, no one knows what kind of demand or issues the university might face in the near future. Zoning laws typically stick for decades (as the previous ones had), and the university doesn’t want to be limited in the future. Allegedly, the City’s new zoning violates what’s called the Cornell Doctrine, a NY state constitutional document that prohibits blanket exclusions of schools and churches in the area.
The lawsuits are not the first, and may not be the last, considering opposition to the plan for rezoning started nearly 2 years prior. The issue was fiercely debated in many public meetings, and one lawsuit has already been defeated. The SoHo Alliance and the Broadway Residents Coalition stated unconstitutionality and the fact that the City Council gave insufficient notice when changing to Zoom meetings on the issue. The lawsuit was defeated in May 2021, but it had been just a stall tactic for passing the rezoning law. The Mayor’s office is confident it will defeat the new lawsuits, as well.
The plan targeted an area of SoHo-NoHo previously zoned for manufacturing and is supposed to provide more affordable housing opportunities, and the City Council only passed the law after an agreement was reached. The addendum reduced the density for the zoning in both the commercial and residential floor area ratio, and will entice developers to build homes instead of commercial office and rental space. The law could allow up to 900 subsidized housing units over the next decade, but it remains to be seen how it all plays out.
Rochelle Harris is a passionate writer originally from Phoenix, AZ. who credits her success to integrity and determination. She has a great sense of humor, loves music and her family, and writes fiction and poetry in her spare time. She is excited about the New York experience and lifestyle! Follow Rochelle on Twitter at @LinguisticAnRky or get in touch at [email protected]