BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Updated Nov. 9, 11:30 a.m.: Throwing a new twist into the Soho/Nono rezoning very late in the game, Councilmember Margaret Chin is now calling for steep fines for nonartists living in joint live work quarters for artists.
Her move came on the eve of Tuesday’s big public hearing on the Soho/Noho rezoning by the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. The proposal was to be discussed during the committee hearing.
On Monday, Chin introduced in the City Council a local law to amend the city’s administrative code.
“This bill would increase the penalties for using joint living work quarters for artists contrary to the requirements of the zoning resolution,” the Council’s Web site states, “including, if applicable, that the unit be occupied by an artist certified by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.”
The new regulation would hit J.L.Q.W.A. scofflaws with steep fines.
Violating the provision, the Council’s Web site says, would be “subject to a civil pe
One longtime Soho resident wondered if the proposed new law and its harsh fines — or merely the threat of them — would spark an “exodus” among Soho and Noho’s thousands of nonartist residents.
The current penalty is reportedly only $1,500, and there is no knowledge of it even having been enforced anytime recently.
The proposed new regulation, which reportedly “came out of the blue,” caught locals’ attention only after being published in the city government’s public record. Apparently, Chin did not deign to bounce the idea off residents first to get their input before introducing it.
Although Soho and Noho’s current zoning is J.L.Q.W.A., not everyone who lives in the districts is an artist — far from it. It’s been an open secret for years, in fact, that the city has not been enforcing the artist certification requirement.
While some scoff that the two Downtown enclaves are overrun with wealthy banker and lawyer residents, that’s not the case, locals say, noting those types are, in fact, the minority. Many of the area’s nonartist residents instead work in the fashion industry or are architects, designers, gallerists, tech workers, academians, even writers, none of which qualify to receive artist’s certification.
There are a few theories about what’s fueling Chin’s move. One idea is that she “wants to force people to accept the $100 flip tax” that would be assessed if they sell their J.L.Q.W.A. units to nonartits. The flip tax, which is generally reviled by current Soho and Noho residents, is included in the proposed rezoning. However, it would take years of fines for J.L.Q.W.A. nonconformance to equal the sale flip tax, which on average could hit loft sellers to the tune of $200,000 to $350,000. (The flip tax would, in turn, be used to create a nebulous “arts fund” that would be availalbe to recipients anywhere south of 14th Street.)
Another theory is that Chin is trying to make good on the concern she raised, along with Councilmember Carlina Rivera, during the summer that there was insufficient assurance that the Soho/Noho rezoning, if passed, would actually create any affordable housing. A system of fines for nonartist residents violating J.LQ.W.A. zoning could thus be seen as a way of preserving artists’ housing in Soho and Noho.
In August, the two politicians wrote a joint letter to the Department of City Planning, saying, in part, “Regardless of the larger issues with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program — which the de Blasio administration has refused to review in its remaining time in office — the fact remains that D.C.P. has not addressed real issues raised [about the Soho/Noho rezoning] by sincere housing and community advocates.
“We call on D.C.P. to return to the table now — not in three or four months — with real plans for how the Soho/Noho plan can guarantee the most affordable housing possible for our communities,” Chin and Rivera said back then. “We must have real and clear direction in the next month in order to address key issues more sufficiently prior to the City Planning Commission hearings.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, said that other tweaks to the rezoning — that may or may not have been made partly in response to Chin and Rivera’s letter — have been insufficient.
“The changes make no change whatsoever,” he said. “The changes only affect 10 out of 84 sites where the city projects affordable housing. The plan still allows developers to build more market-rate space when they don’t build affordable housing — as long as they don’t go above 25,000 square feet.”
Spefically, the allowable commercial floor area ratio, or F.A.R. — a formula that determines building size — was lowered a bit in the “opportunity zones” in the rezoning, meaning areas the city envisions for the most development, including part of Chinatown, a strip along the Bowery and the southwestern corner of Soho. The Chinatown section’s proposed F.A.R. was lowered from 10 to 8, though it’s currently only 5. The Bowery zone’s proposed F.A.R. dropped from 10 to 7, though, again is now only 5.
Berman is holding out hope that the City Council won’t push ahead with the rushed 11th-hour plan — especially since the councilmember who will succeed Chin is strongly against the rezoning.
“A huge factor is Chris Marte,” the preservationist noted. “He is the incoming councilmember and he is telling members to vote against this. We’ve already had conversations with several members and they’ve expressed to us a healthy skepticism of the plan and whether it really lives up to what the mayor has put out about it.”
As for the city’s recent rezonings, Berman said, they have only proven to make their neighborhoods more expensive instead of increasing affordability.
“Show me a neighborhood where that hasn’t been the case,” he scoffed, citing Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Hudson Yards and Long Island City, to name a few.