Brewer holds SoHo/NoHo hearing

Opponents and supporters give their arguments for the mayor’s upzoning proposal in lengthy meeting with the Borough President.

| 30 Aug 2021 | 12:19

After a four hour plus meeting where residents expressed their discontent with the proposed upzoning of SoHo/NoHo, the project is now in the hands of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The plan that Mayor Bill de Blasio has been pushing for since October 2020 was designed to replace 50-year-old zoning to offer more flexibility for businesses and arts and cultural organizations, while creating incentives for new affordable housing.

On Aug. 23, Brewer held a virtual public hearing that consisted of stakeholders, advocates and experts discussing the commercial development, affordable housing, arts and culture, historic preservation and tenant protections as they relate to the rezoning and the future of SoHo/NoHo.

Throughout the evening Brewer advocated that if the project were to be approved, 50 percent of the buildings must be affordable and there needs to be residential housing, not commercial.

“I think our goal here is to have affordable housing,” Brewer said.

While most people who testified were against the proposed zoning change, a few were in favor.

Jerrod Delaine, a professor at Pratt Institute and real estate developer, argued the upzoning will benefit the community. He said the proposal will create economic development, housing and more spaces for artists.

“Shouldn’t we create more spaces for artists and allow people to come to the community?” he said. “How do we help residents provide for their family? How do we create diversity for retail space?”

Residents throughout the public portion said they were in favor because of the need for more housing.

William Meehan and Salvatore Fanchino said with New York City having the highest rent in the country, it is imperative to get this plan approved so people can find some affordable housing.

“Let’s pass this plan and get some housing built,” Fanchino said.

Jeannine Kiely, chair of Manhattan Community Board 2, feels the proposed upzoning will destroy the community.

In July, CB 2 voted 36-1 against the plan and adopted a resolution stating proposed Soho, Noho and Chinatown rezoning fails to achieve affordable housing goals and instead incentivizes office, dormitory and large retail development and will displace existing rent-protected and low-income residents.

“The mayor’s plan fails to achieve affordable housing objectives,” she stated. “CB 2 is not fighting ground floor retail. We are concerned about small and medium size businesses.”

According to Kiely, the city failed to see what the community wanted before designing these plans, especially in Chinatown where she said many people will be displaced.

“There was a significant failure to reach out to Chinatown,” she said.

Anita Brandt, a licensed architect and board member of CB 2, shared Kiely’s concerns. Brandt feels that if this project is approved other neighborhoods will be uprooted and destroyed like this one.

“After a lifetime of restoring historic buildings I feel a sense of loss,” she said. “Our legacy will be this happened on our watch. This plan will ruin the community.”

Elected officials Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney both are staunchly against the upzoning. Glick said that as most people in the CB 2 community are hardworking middle-class people who struggle to afford the cost of living, she questioned how this plan will help them. Moreover, the lawmakers wondered how much affordable housing this project will provide.

“I believe this was an ill-conceived plan by City Planning,” Glick said. “This current scheme is inappropriate and this administration in its last few months should not be in charge of displacing a community. There are better ways to assure more diversity.”

The congresswoman did not bite her tongue or hold back.

“Every elected official I’ve talked to is opposed to this,” she said. “They’re rushing it through the closing days of the administration and it’s completely unfair.”

The City Planning Commission, controlled by the mayor, will hold its public hearing on the Sept. 2, at 10 a.m. Virtual and in-person testimony at 120 Broadway in the basement hearing room will be allowed.