Board 2 addresses Soho/Noho zoning

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Community Board 2 passed a resolution last week that would impose strict requirements on developers who ask the city for permission to build outside the designated uses of empty lots in the Soho and Noho historic districts.

The Department of City Planning is currently considering making a change to part of the zoning code that applies to Soho and Noho. The existing provision states that developers can apply to City Planning for a permit to change the bulk of proposed buildings on empty lots in the Soho and Noho historic districts. The change under consideration would add the words “and use” to the text, so that future developers can apply for permits to build outside of the zoned use as well.

Residents fear that this change would open their neighborhood to over-development, including the possible construction of dormitories and big-box stores. So the community board proposed that a number of specific requirements accompany any text change by city planning.

“Bulk’s one thing, but ‘use’ meant no restrictions,” said Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, a civic group.

The requirements outlined in the board’s resolution include the following: that the only uses allowed under the special permit will be residential units, allowing joint live/work quarters; the minimum size of all residential units will be 1,200 sq. ft.; eating and drinking establishments and catering facilities of any kind will not be allowed; an arts-related project be incorporated into each application; and the existing floor-area ratio of five be maintained.

“It’s not an end-all, cure-all,” said David Reck, new chairperson of C.B. 2’s zoning committee.

But it will give the community some assurance that developers will not have carte blanche when they come to the neighborhood, Reck added. Especially at stake are the many parking lots in Soho and Noho, which builders have eyed since the 1990s.

The community board’s resolution will be forwarded to the office of Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields for comment, and then the proposed changes will be considered by the Department of City Planning and City Council in early fall.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, whose district includes Soho and Noho, said he strongly supports C.B. 2’s proposed changes to the zoning regulations. In particular, Gerson called the arts project provision the “line in the sand to preserve the arts core that still remains in Soho and Noho.”

It remains unclear whether the Department of City Planning will agree to part or all of the community board’s changes. An agency spokesperson did not return a call for comment by press time.

However, Gerson said he was confident that the City Council could override any possible City Planning objections, as the Council did when it defeated the agency-backed proposal to raise the height limit of buildings in the South Street Seaport.