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New Soho/Noho group fundraising for lawsuit against de Blasio’s rezoning

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A new ad hoc group has come together to challenge the Soho/Noho upzoning and is currently raising funds to mount a lawsuit.

The full City Council approved the rezoning on Dec. 15 at its final stated meeting of 2021.

Called the Coalition for Fairness in Soho and Noho, the new group’s GoFundMe Campaign, after just one month, had rapidly raised more than $136,225 toward its goal of $250,000 as of Sunday evening. This is listed as only “phase one” of the fundraising effort.

The group intends to retain veteran attorney Jack Lester, who has previously represented the Soho Alliance in lawsuits. Last May, the Soho Alliance sued to block the Soho/Noho rezoning. but ultimately did not prevail in the courts. The new coalition felt it would be more effective to wait until after the rezoning was passed into law to attack it on legal grounds.

Attorney Jack Lester, speaking at a rally at the East River Park amphitheater last April, sued to force the city to remove redactions from a key report on the East Side Coastal Resiliency project. A new Soho/Noho group plans to retain him as their attorney to fight Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The coalition is especially opposed to what they see as new “punitive” and unfair provisions that would hit nonartist residents.

First, there is a “flip tax” in the rezoning that imposes a $100-per-square-foot penalty for a homeowner to convert to straight residential use from Joint Live/Work Quarters for Artists (J.L.W.Q.A.). It would thus cost a non-certified-artist owner of a 2,500-square-foot residence $250,000 to legalize his or her home. The same tax would apply if an artist owner of a J.L.W.Q.A. unit sold it to a nonarist. On top of that, professional fees and expenses to bring currently manufacturing-zoned buildings up to residential code requirements could raise the cost to $500,000.

In addition, coalition members are outraged over a last-minute regulation change introduced in November by former Councilmember Margart Chin to make nonartist residency of J.L.W.Q.A. units a “major violation” under the Department of Buildings, accompanied by massive fines. The first violation starts at $15,000 minimum. Subsequent violations are $25,000 minimum, with monthly penalties of $1,000 until the flip tax is paid or the residents leave. There was zero discussion of this bill in the Council and the term-limited Chin was its only sponsor.

J.L.W.Q.A. was originally created to legalize artist residents who moved into abandonned buildings in Soho and Noho, which had a manufacturing zoning. Today, it is the most common type of residential use in Soho/Noho, with at least 1,636 units according to the Department of City Planning.

Sunday evening, The Village Sun spoke with a member of the new coalition about their concerns and why they feel have no choice but to sue the city.

The resident, who lives in Noho, spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that many of the coalition members are families that moved to Soho and Noho simply looking for “more space.” Yes, they knew that the two enclaves’ J.L.W.Q.A. zoning restricted residency to city-certified artists. Yet they also were aware that the city had not enforced this provision for decades, effectively making it little more than a “dead-letter law.” Meanwhile, these residents poured money into their buildings to fix them up, even as the neighborhoods around them became increasingly desirable.

The coalition members are a mix of home owners and rent-stabilized tenants.

Above all, the coalition members feel the rezoning ultimately will serve two main purposes: promoting commercial use and development and pushing out current residents.

In short, coalition leaders see the rezoning resulting in things like new Nike Stores, a Tesla office, maybe a new Google headquarters, the member said.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera, talking up the Soho/Noho rezoning before a Council subcommitee voted to approve it on Dec. 9, assured that university dormitory use had been removed from the scheme, per opponents’ request. Yet somehow the final plan, approved on Dec. 15, allows dorms, frats and sororities once again. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Also standing to benefit is New York University, among others. In touting modifications they had made to the rezoning, Chin and Councilmember Carlina Rivera on Dec. 9 claimed that university use, including dorms, would not be allowed in the Soho/Noho rezoning area. However, at the last minute this modification apparently was itself modified, and dorm use, frats and sororities are now allowed again, although other types of college and university facilities are not.

A “technical memorandum” for the City Council’s proposed modifications dated Dec. 14 states, in part:

“The Potential Modifications would not allow colleges or universities…to locate within the SNX [Soho/Noho Mixed-Use District], including professional schools; however, business colleges or trade schools, college or school student dormitories, and fraternity or sorority student houses would be permitted.”

The member stressed that the coaliton does, in fact, support more affordable housing and racial and socioeconomic diversity in Soho and Noho. In other words, not more Nike Stores, but instead more residents who are nurses, emergency responders, school teachers.

Opponents have scoffed that former Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan — despite the hype — does not guarantee that even one unit of affordable housing would be built, and the coalition members agree. For example, he noted, an easy way for a developer to skirt having to include affordable housing would be to construct a mixed-use building, with, say, six stories of commercial uses on the bottom and six stories of residential on top. Assuming the residential area contains less than 12,500 square feet of total floor area or fewer than 10 apartments, no affordable units would be required under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

However, on a positive note, the coalition member said that with Christopher Marte, who opposes the rezoning, now in office in place of Chin and with Eric Adams having succeeded de Blasio, there is renewed hope.

Their agenda is simple, the member said: to protect the people that currently live in Soho and Noho.

The coalition will hold a Zoom “community webinar” on Thurs., Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., though it is not open to the general public or press. The coalition member said it will be for community members, building managing agents and attorneys.

Sunday evening, the Soho Alliance sent out a letter to its e-mail list saying it strongly supports the Coalition for Fairness in Soho and Noho’s effort to sue over the rezoning.

The e-mail also accused former Councilmember Chin of having a “vendetta” against Soho and, as result, giving its residents a parting blow of “extortionate penalties.”

“It’s well established that Margaret Chin has held a political grudge against Soho going back decades, ever since Soho voters overwhelmingly rejected her at the polls numerous times, as far back as 1991, when the cofounder of the Soho Alliance defeated her for City Council,” the letter said, referring to former Councilmember Kathryn Freed. “Well, Chin has sown her revenge in her final days in office.”

The Soho Alliance letter also called out former Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for her role in setting the rezoning process into motion in the first place.

“Gale Brewer, who lied to our faces repeatedly in 2019 that the Envision Soho/Noho process was just a study and no rezoning was planned,” the letter said, “has not uttered a word of apology or remorse for the shameful Frankenstein monster she helped create.”

10 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 January 3, 2022

    Interesting that this article doesn’t mention that the top donor to this lawsuit is Andrews Organization, a large real estate management company. Isn’t that important context when the coalition is claiming to be a group of residents fighting against the real estate industry? On quick review, other top donors are an Instagram influencer, a former Goldman banker specializing in collateralized lending and a Hollywood lawyer. This very clearly is not a situation where legitimate artists were not able to obtain certification.

    It’s also striking that this newspaper decided to give anonymity to the person explaining the coalition’s position. There are plenty of people who signed their names to this coalition openly in the GoFundMe, including the organizer. Why is this person speaking anonymously and why not go to one of the people who has publicly supported this effort? Obviously, I think people are entitled to offer their opinions anonymously, but that is quite different from a media outlet allowing an anonymous source to advance his personal financial interests in a reported piece. Hard for me to believe that someone on the other side of this issue would be given the same treatment.

    • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | January 3, 2022

      The source was very clear that there were reasons he needed to remain anonymous. The coalition was not even looking for media coverage at this point, but The Village Sun strove to “get out ahead of the story.” He agreed to talk to the newspaper on condition of anonymity. He also clearly stated that not everyone in the group is an artist. From the sound of it, many are not. And that is one of the points he was making and that the group will be arguing: that the city, for decades now, has not been enforcing the “certified artist” requirement for JLWQA (Joint Live/Work Quarters for Artists) in Soho and Noho.

    • AFilm AFilm January 7, 2022

      Andrews organization manages many of the buildings that are affected by these fines – they are in fact my building manager – and their donation represents their interest in me, my family and that of my neighbors. – I am a family of soon to be four, with two working parents – who will lose the value of our only real asset – and potentially be forced to unload it or bankrupted by fines. Both my husband and I work daily 60-plus-hour-a-week jobs in the media industry and production but are not considered artists. I’ve lived here for 20 years. You’re right there are lots of rich people in Soho – just like there are lots of rich people all over New York – who might not care if ONE of their houses loses value – but there are lots of other people too in this city of 9M – The City has increased our property taxes for years – because of the value NON-artists were paying for their apartments – and now they want to decimate us.

      • LES3025 LES3025 January 9, 2022

        I appreciate your candor in acknowledging that, for you, this is about your property value and also not facing consequences for breaking the law.

        • David Thall David Thall January 10, 2022

          Your deep hatred for SoHo property owners and families living in SoHo is legendary.

          LES3025 postings of nonstop, specious, snarky comments in local news comment sections reflects the venality of your employer perfectly: The real estate predators who want to push us out — simply because of our opposition to their massive deregulation agenda.

    • David Thall David Thall January 10, 2022

      LES3025 criticizing the anonymity of a new community organizer?

      Wow. Talk about blatant hypocrisy. You’ve aggressively refused to reveal who you are from day one.

      LES3025, in fact, posts more nonstop comments “anonymously” than anyone else in the local news comment sections.

      From your highly biased, nonstop, specious attacks on all local residents in support of SoHo JLWQA homeowners and residents who post a comment — you are clearly a paid media shill working for the real estate special-interest predators who hate the SoHo JLWQA community.

      Your hypocrisy and nonstop argumentative rantings against SoHo residents on local newspaper columns is legendary. I dare you to reveal who you are. Go ahead, tell us.

      So do who get paid per word or per troll?

      • David R. Marcus David R. Marcus January 22, 2022

        Amen. Exactly my point these many months.

        Time for LES3025 to come out from under his rock.

  2. Lora Tenenbaum Lora Tenenbaum January 3, 2022

    The truth of the matter is that artists and their families will also be injured by this upzoning and fines. That is why the overwhelming percentage of people showing up at all the Envision & zoning meetings were artists. Artists are still numerous in SoHo/NoHo. How will they be harmed? Let’s put aside the fact these laws will make our community even richer & less diverse, filled with big-box stores, clubs, experiential retail, no open green space, etc. Most have been here a long time & live in co-ops rather than the more recent high-end condos. As the owner of the property, the whole co-op will be fined if even a single JLQWA is not occupied by a certified artist. And to bring even a single unit up to code for residences (if even possible) could well require massive expenditures on the part of the co-op. And what about a surviving spouse who isn’t the artist? Their children? Are they fined and forced to convert? Looks like it. Few artists would be able to afford the fines and conversion fees. They would be forced to sell. Displaced. These laws were a last middle finger from Cruella Chin to a community that generally preferred other candidates over her…vindictive and flawed.

  3. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 3, 2022

    Hilarious that the anonymous LES 3025 is now objecting to anonymity!

    It seems to me that targeting a small group of property owners for crushing fines is unconstitutional, if not unconscionable, and should certainly be opposed by a class-action lawsuit.

    As the last certified Artist residing in a JLWQA building since 1975, I have been hoping that the original loft laws and my legitimate certification as an Artist would protect my family from the wealthy nonartists who have since bought apartments in our JLWQA building and are trying to push us “out onto the street,” according to a memorable threat issued by one of the multimillionaires. This extremely wealthy individual has said that he wants to “buy out the poorer ones and take over the building.” This would have been unthinkable, when we had to sand our own floors and figure out how to install simple plumbing in the old factory buildings that we were lovingly reinventing.

    The problem here is the building’s original JLWQA requirement in the C of O, and the misrepresentation of the residential apartment next door to me, the former residence of Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, owned by his wife Sylvia Topp, as an Artist “Studio./No Sleeping” unit. That apartment was never legalized, due to a lot-line issue, and the owner and her son, an attorney, are now suing me in the Southern District of New York, claiming that their illegally sublet apartment is actually a “tenants in common” with my legitimate JLWQA apartment, which is our only home. I have a lease and stock certificate dating to 1975, and these have always been separate apartments. But if I am ordered to sell at Public Auction, as my former next-door neighbors are demanding, I too would have to pay the new flip tax.

    I understand that the purpose of ruining the landmarked SOHO neighborhood was to open the gates to real estate developers, and provide career opportunities for departing City Councilmembers, such as Margaret Chin. I do not understand, however, why the original JLWQA buildings were targeted, or why setting neighbor against neighbor, and penalizing residents who, in one way or another, have paid to live here, will be of any help to anyone.

  4. David Thall David Thall January 10, 2022

    Margaret Chin’s violations/tax grossly misinterprets the intention of the existing regulation:

    Original JLWQA regulations were enacted to legalize loft housing in SoHo for artists. Period. NOT punish anyone else living there.

    The 60-year-old $1,250 violation was originally meant to address owners who REFUSED to rent to artists. The reality in 2022 is that this problem doesn’t exist anymore.

    Everyone who lives here knows this. Including: realtors, mortgage bankers and even the Dept. of Cultural Affairs in charge of issuing “Artist Certifications” — and the Dept. Buildings, which hasn’t fined non-artists living in JLWQA condominiums or co-ops. Why?

    Because it doesn’t benefit anyone to do that –- including artists.

    Chin’s new tax was invented as a political solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Targeting a select group of SoHo residential homeowners, saddling them with a catastrophic financial albatross with no way out.

    It is a permanent Catch-22 tax masquerading as a “temporary,” incurable, unfixable violation. The DOB and FDNY issue violations all the time — that are fixable, so the fines can be dismissed. Nothing like Chin’s invention.

    That is not what Chin’s violation / tax is designed to do. In fact, it seriously undermines the JLWQA real estate market by destroying the property value of JLWQA lofts. Making them far more costly to own -– and no more available to artists than they are now.

    WHY DID CHIN DO IT?
    Political payback. Because SoHo Residents opposed her and her cronies. Same reason she also voted to eliminate the Elizabeth Street Garden. More of her vindictiveness.

    The entire purpose of Chin’s new draconian tax is to extort and drive current JLWQA property owners out; so that her outside real estate lobbyists who wrote this “law” for Chin can buy the properties at a discount — as middle-class owners are forced to sell. Because to them, conversion is just a business expense. To them it’s a win/win.

    It doesn’t get any more misguided or venal than this, folks.

    WHAT CHIN AND HER BENEFACTORS WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND:
    “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”  –- Dalai Lama

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