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How the City Celebrates Preservation Month

May is “Preservation Month.” But the de Blasio administration isn’t celebrating it. Instead, the City is expected to begin the public review of its plan to upzone SoHo and NoHo–threatening the unique character of neighborhoods largely covered by historic districts.

The City Planning Commission had SoHo/NoHo on its agenda yesterday. But it was laid over without any explanation. Some community groups and residents have filed a lawsuit charging that there should have been in-person community meetings on the proposal. A judge denied a temporary restraining order but a hearing is scheduled for June 3.

Courtesy of MAS: model of SoHo/NoHo rezoning area showing projected (orange) and potential (yellow) development sites. New zoning applies to all lots in the area. The red line represents the rezoning boundary.

The City says its goal is creating “affordable” housing in a wealthy area. But the City is relying on developers to build it. That means building three market-rate units for every new affordable one. Developments under a certain size have no affordability requirements. There are also concerns that current affordable units in four to six-story buildings could be lost to increased development pressures. Everyone recognizes the need for affordable housing, but there are increasing questions and criticisms of the City’s approach.

SoHo/NoHo residents and business owners agree on the importance of preserving the area’s historic character. The unique building stock made the neighborhoods successful shopping and tourist destinations. Yet the City wants to risk that. Most of the “projected” and “potential” development sites that will see new-market rate construction are within the historic districts. Most of the affordable units are most likely to be built outside the designated areas.

The public review process for this plan will have to begin soon to ensure a vote while the de Blasio administration is in office. There are zoning changes needed to legalize residential use and eliminate business hurdles. But it would be wonderful if yesterday’s delay signaled that the City is modifying its proposal and recognizes the area’s historic character as the asset it is.

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