On May 17, the City Planning Commission (CPC) certified the SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan (the Plan), which would replace outdated zoning regulations that preclude residences, including affordable housing, and severely restrict ground floor uses. Certification is the first step in the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP); this schedule should allow the Plan to be approved by the CPC and the City Council by the end of the year, while the current mayor and City Council member are in office.
The rezoning is timely, since the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated retail stores, other businesses and tourism in SoHo/NoHo, and the protests last summer have fueled a call for more racially integrated communities and the equitable distribution of affordable housing.
Current zoning regulations applicable in M1-5A and M1-5B districts — which are mapped only in SoHo/NoHo — have long been out of step with the existing land use context. Housing is only permitted as of right for certified artists, and retail stores are only permitted on small lots in a small part of the area. However, residential and retail uses are prevalent in the area, either developed illegally or grandfathered, or pursuant to individual CPC authorizations or special permits, or variances granted by the Board of Standards and Appeals. Most of the area is also within one of five historic districts requiring Landmarks Preservation Commission approval for any proposed work.
The Plan includes zoning map and zoning text amendments that encompass a 56-block area, and would replace all or portions of existing M1-5A and M1-5B districts with a range of paired districts — M1-5/R7X, M1-5/R9X and M1-6/R10 — with varying densities. The Plan would establish the Special SoHo NoHo Mixed-Use District, which would modify the underlying use and bulk regulations of the paired districts with more fine-grained provisions to reflect the unique characteristics of different areas within the special district. Highlights of the Plan are summarized below.
- The paired districts would allow a mix of residential, commercial, community facility and manufacturing uses as of right.
- The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program would apply and would require permanently affordable housing set‐asides for all developments more than 10 units or 12,500 zoning square feet or, as an additional option for developments between 10 and 25 units or 12,500 to 25,000 zoning square feet, a payment into an affordable housing fund.
- Existing Joint Living Work Quarters for Artists (JLWQA) Use Group 17D would be allowed to remain but could be converted to Use Group 2 residential use through a CPC Chairperson’s Certification and conditioned upon a contribution to the SoHo-NoHo Artists Fund that would support arts and cultural uses that benefit the community.
- Conversions or enlargements of large buildings with more than 60,000 square feet of floor area, typically located along the Broadway commercial corridor, would be required to retain existing nonresidential floor area — evidenced by a CPC Chairperson's certification. Nonresidential uses include office, retail, storage, community facility, warehouse, light and industrial/manufacturing uses but not community facility with sleeping accommodations, hotel and JLWQA.
- Large retail establishments or Use Group 10 retail uses, such as department stores of more than 10,000 zoning square feet, and physical culture establishments (gyms, health clubs and spas), would be permitted as of right. Use Group 5 transient hotels would continue to be permitted only by City Planning Commission special permit.
- The Broadway-Houston and NoHo-North Corridors would be rezoned to M1-5/R9X, which would allow 5.0 or 6.0 FAR for commercial/manufacturing uses, 9.7 FAR for residential use with MIH and 6.5 FAR for community facility use. To reflect Broadway and the northern portion of NoHo’s status as major commercial corridors and employment hubs, bulk regulations would allow 6.0 FAR buildings with full lot coverage up to two stories.
- The Canal Corridor would be rezoned to M1-5/R9X, which would allow 6.0 FAR for commercial/manufacturing uses, 9.7 FAR for residential use with MIH and 6.5 FAR for community facility use.
- The SoHo and NoHo Cores would be rezoned to M1-5/R7X, which would allow 6.0 FAR for commercial/manufacturing uses, 6.0 FAR for residential use with MIH and 6.5 FAR for community facility use.
- The SoHo West, SoHo East and NoHo-Bowery peripheral areas would be rezoned to M1-6/R10, which would allow 10.0 FAR for commercial/manufacturing use, 12 FAR for residential use with MIH and 6.5 FAR for community facility use.
- In the Broadway-Houston Corridor, NoHo-North, Canal Corridor, and SoHo and NoHo Cores, which include five historic districts with varied built forms, special regulations would supplement the typical M1-5/R7X and M1-5/R9X bulk regulations to support loft-like building forms that reflect the historic character of these areas.
- In the SoHo West, SoHo East and NoHo Bowery peripheral areas, which are framed by wide streets and are generally located outside historic districts, special regulations would modify the bulk regulations of the typical M1-6/R10 district to allow sufficient flexibility to achieve viable building envelopes and housing goals while responding to the neighborhood context.
There has been significant opposition to the Plan, led by a coalition of neighborhood groups and preservation advocates. On April 30, 2021, SoHo Alliance Inc., Broadway Residents Coalition and four individuals brought a lawsuit against the City to prevent certification of the Plan and commencement of the ULURP process. While the judge denied the issuance of a temporary restraining order, the motion for a preliminary injunction is pending and is scheduled to be heard on June 8. The lawsuit’s primary stated aim is to require the City to reinstate in-person public hearings as part of ULURP. The goal more likely is to delay ULURP to the extent that it cannot be completed before a new mayoral administration and City Council take office on Jan. 1, 2022.