As community groups filed a lawsuit against plans to rezone Soho/Noho last month, things swung in their direction last week when City Planning declined to certify the rezoning.
It is quite interesting that on May 3, just three days after the petition was announced, that the city reversed its position.
Now, it seems what Mayor Bill de Blasio has been pushing for since October 2020 could be in trouble. The plan 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.
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, who filed the lawsuit with the Broadway Residents Coalition, couldn’t be happier about the news.
“The city tried to spin it that the judge denied our motion, a moot point by then, ignoring the fact that de Blasio has egg on his face with his pet project now stalled indefinitely,” Sweeney said in a letter to the community. “Whether it certifies then remains to be seen. The point is that the city realizes that it screwed up big time.”
The lawsuit is seeking a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief from the de Blasio administration’s illegal violation of basic requirements of the law, the City Charter and the city rules, the administration’s abuse of power during the pandemic and the administration’s stripping of their free speech and due process rights protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The plaintiffs believe that upzoning proposal is designed to build a few units of “affordable housing,” but actually is a 3.8 million square-foot giveaway to developers to construct luxury housing, high-rise office buildings and massive retail outlets — at the same time displacing people in adjacent Chinatown and Little Italy rent-stabilized buildings.
According to the petition, in 2019 voters approved a 72 percent City Charter revision that requires DCP to send a “detailed project summary” of any impending rezoning actions to the community board at least 30 days before certification of these actions, post the same detailed project summary on its website within five days of transmitting the 30-day notice to the community board and establish rules with minimum standards for the content and form of these pre-certification notices.
However, the groups claim DCP has failed to do any of these three legal requirements mandated by the voters in the City Charter, in addition to violating the Charter’s in-person hearing requirement.
“Mayor de Blasio is using the pandemic as an excuse to hold virtual-only Zoom public hearings despite the law’s requirement that these public hearings be held in-person, and despite his own announcement on national news that the city will fully reopen by July 1,” Sweeney states in the letter.
Sweeney questions why if people can gather at Yankee Stadium, go to movies and bars, then why can’t the city find a location to hold essential public hearings?
Meanwhile, a City Planning spokesman feels things are headed in the right direction.
“We are finalizing a few small matters related to the application and look forward to beginning public review in the near future,” the spokesman said.
Building on a public engagement process that spanned six months and included over 40 meetings last year, the upzoning proposal would allow as many as 3,200 new homes to be created, with approximately 800 permanently affordable homes via Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). Existing rent-regulated homes, many covered by the Loft Law, will remain protected.
“Our plan will expand housing, promote equity, support arts and culture, and cut through unnecessary and outdated burdens on small business,” said a spokesman from the city’s law department. “During the public review process, New Yorkers will have months to continue to be involved and make their voices heard on this proposal for a fairer, more affordable SoHo and NoHo.”
The Department of City Planning next meets May 17.
“The city tried to spin it that the judge denied our motion, a moot point by then, ignoring the fact that de Blasio has egg on his face with his pet project now stalled indefinitely.” Soho Alliance Director Sean Sweeney in a letter to the community