Plan to Turn SoHo Building Into Luxury Housing Blasted by Village Preservation Society

A 127-year-old office building in SoHo–purchased by Astral Management for $14.8 million–is going to be redeveloped into luxury rentals at 40 Wooster St. While the city has been pushing to convert office space into residential space, The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation claims that current plans provide too many loopholes for avoiding affordable housing.

| 25 Oct 2023 | 08:15

A six-story office building in SoHo–originally erected in 1896–will now be redeveloped into luxury rentals by its new owners, Astral Management. The developer purchased the property from Northwind Group for $14.8 million.

The sale to a luxury developer has drawn the ire of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which opposes a transformation of the 127-year-old building at 40 Wooster St. The sale was first reported by Crain’s New York Business.

In an October 24 blog post on the redevelopment, Village Preservation notes that Astral Management narrowly avoided requirements that would’ve forced it to include affordable housing in their project. Specifically, the redevelopment would include “just shy of 12,500 sq. ft. of residential space” above a retail-oriented ground floor. Developers that include more than 12,500 sq. ft. of residential space must take part in the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, a rezoning “tool” used by city agencies to boost affordable housing development.

Rather than solely placing blame on Astral Management for skirting a chance to develop affordable units, however, Village Preservation is frustrated with the city itself for maintaining the “loopholes” that it believes developers are abusing. They also assert that 2021’s SoHo/NoHo/Chinatown Upzoning + Displacement Plan, promoted by then-Mayor Bill DeBlasio and a solid chunk of the City Council, has produced inconsistent results when it comes to affordable housing production.

In a November 2021 report condemning the zoning plan, Village Preservation claimed that “based upon [the Department of City Planning’s] long and well-established track record, their assertion that the plan will produce 3,500 units of housing, 900 of which may be ‘affordable,’ is likely to vary wildly from the reality which will only emerge over time if this rezoning is approved.”

Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, told Our Town Downtown that he believes that the city’s system of predicting affordable rezoning “is not what it promises to was taken as a sort of gospel truth.” Berman doesn’t want Astral Management’s luxury development to be just a “told you so” moment, but something that should “inform” community opposition moving forward.

Berman was quick to add that although he works for a preservationist society, his team “saw nothing sacred” about the status quo ante before DeBlasio’s efforts. Indeed, Village Preservation released their own alternative rezoning plan in 2020, which included its own push for more affordable units (alongside a promise to “maintain and nurture SoHo and NoHo’s historic and creative character,” of course). The city did not adopt the plan.

“One of the dangers of the city’s approach is that it’s basically saying: ‘We’re gonna change the conditions, and we think that the market will respond in this way,’” Berman said, calling this a form of “fortune-telling” or “guessing.”

Instead, he believes that “if you want more affordable housing, build more affordable housing. Don’t say: ‘We’re gonna rezone to encourage developers to build luxury housing...we’re gonna try to get it so that they include, within the luxury housing, a fraction of affordable housing.’”

Reached by OT Downtown, Astral Management simply said “no comment.”