An Environmental Assessment Statement released by the NYC Department of City Planning reveals how proposals to rezone Manhattan’s SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods could permanently alter the area. The actions aim to expand allowable residential density for multifamily buildings, spur the construction of income-restricted and permanently affordable housing, and increase available community facilities. If approved, the upzone could spur the development of more than 3,200 new apartment units, 108,000 gross square feet of retail space, and 35,000 square feet of community facilities. Estimates for residential development include up to 940 affordable apartment units.
The proposed amendments would affect approximately 56 city blocks or 146 acres. This includes 11 blocks in NoHo and 45 blocks in SoHo. The formal review focuses specifically on how new construction and development will impact the neighborhood’s character, public health, air quality, infrastructure, and building shadows, as well as potential displacement of existing businesses, schools, and open space.
In 1971, when the area’s current zoning was adopted, the intention was to facilitate a path for existing working artists to legalize their live-work occupancy, while also preserving space for manufacturing and wholesale businesses. Since that time, the area’s existing zoning has become restrictive to the diversification of use types within the neighborhoods.
One example cited by the Department of City Planning is zoning rules that generally require ground floors to be occupied by light manufacturing tenants. Any other use types, such as office space, retail, or dining, require a special permit which typically requires storefronts to be kept vacant for long periods of time. The department asserts that a shift away from manufacturing in favor of retail, office, creative production, and other commercial uses is more consistent with economic conditions and land use trends in SoHo and NoHo.
The proposal is subject to review and approval under New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Most of these developments would also be subject to review and approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission due to the affected areas’ location within the SoHo-Cast Iron, NoHo, and the NoHo East Historic Districts.
According the environmental assessment, the proposed actions would not result in major displacement of existing residents, community facilities, and services.
The actions would, however, directly displace more than 100 employees, which will require a secondary impact study. Additional adverse effects also include the construction of high-rise buildings with large shadows in “sunlight-sensitive” areas, vast in-ground disturbances that could affect nearby historic buildings or unearth hazardous materials, along with an increase in reliance in existing energy, water, and sewer infrastructure.
The forthcoming scope of work draft will provide further details on how the Department of City Planning might modify the proposed zoning amendments to curtail some or all of the adverse impacts.