How the SoHo Rezoning May Play a Role in the City Elections

SOHO buildings on Broadway.
Photo credit: NewYorkCountyPolitics.com

With 2021’s city-wide elections heating up, there’s one issue that will likely continue to ignite, and that is the rezoning of SoHo and NoHo. This issue, which has sparked the attention and emotions of both neighborhoods, and beyond, could be a major factor in the races for Council District 1. 

“This will be a huge issue,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, and who has been one of the noted opponents of the rezoning. “Things will be in motion at the time voting takes place next June [for the primaries]. Emotions will be running high. There are many who are extremely concerned, and it has invoked a passionate response.”

The debate is fiery on both ends, with some denouncing the possibility of SoHo losing its historical buildings and having big chain stores moving in, while others say it is time for the wealthy area to finally make room for working-class New Yorkers.

“There are only 600 subsidized, income-restricted units in Community District 2,” said Aaron Carr, founder of the Housing Rights Initiative, via an emailed statement.

“The SoHo plan would more than double the number of affordable housing units in the district,” Carr’s statement went on to say. “SoHo will be getting something in return for the rezoning: economic and racial diversity and a neighborhood that looks more like New York City. The claim that historic buildings will be torn down is complete fiction and evokes the city’s shameful history of racial and economic segregation. If only the wealthy, white homeowners of SoHo would worry about historic segregation as much as they do about historic preservation.”

Sean Sweeney, the president of the SoHo Alliance, decried Carr’s comments.

“Carr, a paid executive and a well-off, privileged white man himself,” he said. “Should be ashamed of his flippant use of ‘segregation’ to vilify us volunteer community activists who are fighting to preserve our community from De Blasio’s contributor friends’ bulldozers. I chaired the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 2 for over two decades and have come to realize that our city is now for sale to the highest bidder and preservation is an afterthought.”

Council Member Carlina Rivera (Photo credit: council.nyc.gov)
Council Member Carlina Rivera

The belief that New York’s leaders cater more to real estate developers rather than the communities is not new, but neither are accusations of city leaders not being transparent about their views on rezoning. Sweeney points out that during a forum with the Downtown Independent Democrats (DID) in November, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-East Village, Gramercy Park) seemed reluctant to state her position on the upzoning of historic districts. That led to a delay in endorsement, which did not happen until a follow-up meeting later on. 

When asked for her response over the criticisms she has received over this topic, Jeremy Unger, Communications Director for Rivera, issued this statement:

“Councilwoman Rivera is always committed to working with residents of her District from a wide background of opinions and viewpoints when it comes to important policy decisions. She is currently focused on doing just that with DCP’s SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan, as she works to incorporate feedback received at several one-on-one meetings and events held with the community and affordable housing advocates into her comments on the draft scope of work for the proposed rezoning. Councilwoman Rivera looks forward to continuing those discussions as DCP considers this project’s certification and the next steps in the ULURP process in 2021.”

As Rivera runs for re-election, she is unopposed thus far. Requests for comments or information from Manhattan’s Republican and Libertarian parties did not receive responses.

As for CD 1, where Councilwoman Margaret Chin’s (D-Battery Park City, Chinatown) term limits are up, there are now eight candidates seeking her seat. They include Chin’s Chief of Staff, Gigi Li; her former opponent, Christopher Marte; CEC 2 President Maud Maron; and Democratic District Leader, Jenny Low. Others include Jacqueline Gross, Dennis Mihalsky, Tiffany Winbush, and Dennis Salas. All are running on the Democratic ticket. 

Jenny Lam-Low (Photo source: https://www.jennylow.nyc/)
Jenny Lam-Low

When asked for her thoughts on the rezoning of SoHo/NoHo, Gigi Li explained she was not available to give them. Jenny Low released a statement, saying, “I do not support the current plan for rezoning SoHo, which currently doesn’t achieve enough affordability and doesn’t address vital infrastructure needs, including schools and social services to serve new residents. In order to get any future rezoning right, and avoid towers erected solely for the wealthy, we need to let communities lead the process, not developers or City Hall.” 

Maud Maron (Photo source: https://maudmaron.nyc/)
Maud Maron

Maud Maron said that she felt Mayor de Blasio’s Soho rezoning means fewer small businesses, and fewer opportunities for new immigrants. “My neighbors tell me they will not leave our communities. And that they need a Councilmember who’ll lead the fight for excellent schools, clean safe streets, and a comprehensive plan to help those who need help,” she says. Maron then says she is that candidate who will fight for all those if elected to City Council. 

Christopher Marte (Photo source: https://www.votemarte.com/)
Christopher Marte

Christopher Marte’s response to a similar question had him saying the following: “No, I do not support the Mayor’s rezoning of SoHo/NoHo….SoHo and NoHo do not exist in a vacuum as they closely border the working-class and immigrant communities of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. Luxury development in SoHo will raise the property values of its neighboring communities, which leads to the displacement and harassment of low-income tenants as their landlords realize they can charge higher rents.”

Marte also said he is the only candidate that has been fighting for community-based rezoning, and will continue to lead those proposals, if he were to be elected to the council seat.

Sweeney is keeping an eye on how each political candidate, including those running for the Mayor’s seat will address the rezoning of SoHo/NoHo. Some who claim to support the rezoning plan have Sweeney shaking his head.

“Do they know that it will permit big box retail stores, Home Depot, Target – do they know that?” he asked. “Do they know the value of the air rights that it has given developers? What are we getting back? Do they know what the community is getting back in return for this bonus giveaway to the developers? Because we don’t, because there’s none; we’re getting nothing.”

It is still six months before the June primaries, and less than a year before the city-wide elections next November. A challenger or two may emerge to run against Councilwoman Rivera, or those running for CD 1 may switch political parties. Even Berman notes the changes that could occur, but points out how important the City Council has when it comes to zoning the city’s neighborhoods.

“It is the heart of what a city council is,” he says. “And it is a few of what the city council has control over.”

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