BY THE VILLAGE SUN | A development group is trumpeting that it plans to build “the first” residential project in Soho and Noho under the district’s new zoning rules, while touting the fact that 25 percent of its units will be affordable.
However, the head of Village Preservation is scoffing that the first part of that statement is simply false — namely, that two other new projects in the district have already proceeded under the new zoning, neither of which includes affordable housing. The rezoning was approved a little more than a year ago in December 2021.
United American Land, which describes itself as “a longtime Soho-based company,” is proposing to create 100 new homes and “dynamic retail” at 277 Canal St., at Broadway. The property formerly housed the Asian emporium Pearl River Mart from 1986 to 2003. The developers plan to keep the current three-story structure’s exterior shell and build 10 additional stories above it.
Because the existing building is a so-called “contributing” property within the landmarked Soho Cast-Iron Historic District, the scheme will need approval by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The developers are not releasing design renderings of the proposed building yet, but these may be made available when they submit them to L.P.C.
One-quarter of the new project’s units will be affordable housing under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.
According to a press release from developer UAL, the 13-story project has been “contextually designed for Soho” by architect Morris Adjmi, made of textured brick, metal and terracotta, which the developer notes are materials “characteristic of the neighborhood.”
The site is above one of the city’s most active subway stations, and so, the release states, “achieves one of the main goals of the rezoning to more evenly introduce affordable housing across wealthier and transit-rich neighborhoods.”
“United American Land is a family business with ties to this community going back over 35 years; historic preservation of this iconic neighborhood in our DNA,” said Albert Laboz, principal of UAL. “At the same time, we are deeply invested in the goals set out in the rezoning that affordable housing should be accessible and equitable, and we are grateful to share this proposal with Soho that achieves both aims.
“We look forward to sharing our proposal with neighborhood stakeholders in the coming weeks and working to ensure 277 Canal fits seamlessly into the neighborhood’s historical and economic context while delivering affordable housing and new retail opportunities for New York.”
UAL has a track record working in Soho and with historic buildings. Its principals, brothers Albert, Jason and Jody Laboz, own and manage more than 70 properties in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, including nearly dozens in Soho and Tribeca.
UAL’s holdings primarily include “high pedestrian traffic retail,” luxury loft apartments and loft office spaces, which are predominantly in historic buildings that they adaptively reused, restored and developed.
UAL has developed and managed more than 20 properties in Soho, including 53 Howard St., a former department store built in 1857 and recently converted to apartments with ground-floor retail anchored by The Guild and Le Mercerie. The company also developed Soho Mews, the 125,000-square-foot condominium building at West Broadway and Wooster Street. UAL also has received approvals from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to develop an eight-story retail and office building at 419 Broadway, directly across the street from the proposed site.
During the height of the pandemic, UAL partnered with Pop-up on Canal to enliven 20 formerly vacant retail storefronts with short-term activations from artists, start-ups and incubators to help the neighborhood recover economically.
The company has won the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s top honors for its work, including at 321/323 Canal St. and 55 Reade St./287 Broadway.
The developers say this project will be a model for how to balance creating affordable housing while “retaining historical characteristics.”
Per UAL’s press release: “The proposed [277 Canal St.] project is proof that the Soho/Noho rezoning process is yielding meaningful benefits for the community and the city at large. As New York grapples with a decades-long affordable housing crisis, UAL leadership hopes that 277 Canal will provide a model for how communities throughout New York City can generate opportunities for new affordable housing while retaining important local historical characteristics.
In addition to going through review by Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, UAL will meet with local stakeholders, neighbors and elected officials in the coming weeks as the proposal proceeds.
However, Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, said the UAL group’s claims are full of holes.
“This announcement speaks to all the failures and lies embodied in the Soho/Noho/Chinatown rezoning,” he told The Village Sun. “This is actually the third development to proceed since the rezoning was approved; the first two — one on the Bowery and one on Centre Street — both have no affordable housing.
“This is the first one slated to have any affordable housing,” he said. “However, it is located on a site which the city said was neither a projected nor even a potential development site, thus illustrating how wrong the city’s claims and forecasts about the rezoning were. Of the other two sites, one was also not categorized as a projected or potential development site, while the third was projected to be a site where affordable housing would be developed — a boutique office building with no affordable housing whatsoever is being built there instead.
“It should also be noted,” Berman noted, “that the proposed development site [at 277 Canal St.] is located within a historic district, and the existing building is considered a contributing building in the historic district. The proposal is to build 10 stories on top of the historic three-story building — a seemingly by definition inappropriate, oversized addition to a landmarked building. These are exactly the kind of changes within the historic districts which the city claimed wouldn’t happen under this plan.
“Finally, even if this does proceed with 25 percent affordable housing, as per the studies we produced leading up to the rezoning, these 75 percent super-luxury housing/25 percent ‘affordable’ developments would still skew the neighborhood toward being wealthier, more expensive and less diverse than the current neighborhood overall.
“New market-rate housing in the neighborhood, on average, houses people in the top less than 10 percent of the income levels for the neighborhood, in housing that’s more expensive than 90 percent of the neighborhood, while the ‘affordable’ 25 percent would charge higher rents and require higher incomes than the 25 percent least well-off in these communities make and can afford. So these new developments will accelerate the rate of making Soho, Noho and Chinatown more expensive, more wealthy and less diverse, while also destroying the historic character and scale of these neighborhoods.”