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New poll shows SoHo locals back rezoning push

Property owners pushing to stem the bleeding of businesses from SoHo and NoHo with a major rezoning say a new poll shows most of the locals want the same thing.

According to the Fix SoHo/NoHo Coalition , a poll of 250 voters in the district found most supported changing zoning from its current manufacturing status.

The coalition of residents, owners, area workers and businesses want to legalize all residential apartments and make it simpler for businesses to set up shop with a new zoning framework.

Their poll, they said, showed most younger respondents weren’t even aware the neighborhood is legally zoned as a manufacturing district and the City makes exceptions only for certified artists to live there legally.

Retail is not legal unless there is a grandfathered clause on the building or after completing the City’s uniform land use review process, which often delays new retail openings by up to three years.

BRIAN STEINWURTZEL

“The obsolete zoning laws are driving away existing and potential retailers when brick and mortar businesses are already under threat from e-commerce,” said GFP Real Estate’s Brian Steinwurtzel and president of the SoHo Broadway Initiative. 

According to the coalition, a new food hall concept recently backed out of a plan to open a SoHo venue as a direct result of the zoning.

A Department of City Planning study on vacant storefronts released over the summer found that the SoHo/NoHo area was the most blighted retail corridor in the entire city, along with Brownsville in Brooklyn.

While in the latter case, the dearth of occupied storefronts had more to do with a weaker local economy and lack of subway access, it was believed Soho’s zoning laws contributed to its blight.

Other factors, the DCP said, were a rent bubble that led to warehousing combined with a glut of space on main and side streets.

In November, the Real Estate Board of New York released its own study on Manhattan retail that showed  SoHo average asking rents declined 12 percent year-over-year to $491 psf.

“Complications in the area stem from restrictive zoning that limits food/beverage uses in the corridor as well as its composition of loft buildings with large retail spaces that are difficult to subdivide,” said REBNY.

Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Margaret Chin

However, the Envision SoHo NoHo report released by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and local Council Member Margaret Chin found the area was still a major retail corridor where spending was $3.1 billion in 2016.

This puts it second in the city only to the Fifth Avenue retail district.

The area also contributes about $170 million in sales tax to the city and state each year, and retail in the area accounts for 18 percent of all neighborhood uses (based on floor area breakdown.)

Brewer and Chin, along with the Department of City Planning, are in the midst of a major public outreach over potential rezoning that would “improve quality of life for residents and workers in the area, maintain and strengthen existing protections for residents, support artist and maker communities while also allowing others to live in the community, and create housing and live-work opportunities on underused land in a way that respects the community’s character, ” they said.

Additional goals, aimed at economic vitality, are to preserve and create more spaces for artists and makers and cut down on bureaucratic hurdles for small businesses.

According to the Fix SoHo/NoHo Coalition poll, conducted by Change Research:
• When voters learn more about “Certified Artist” laws, they want to see them changed for more fairness and legality of current residents.
• No one sees the area as manufacturing and just starting with that fact begins a thoughtful conversation about changing these zoning laws.
• Few actual Certified Artists or family members who are artists live in this area. Younger voters don’t relate to this at all on a personal level.

MARGARET BAISLEY

“This poll confirms what we already know; the people of SoHo/NoHo want to see the outdated zoning laws changed to accurately reflect the neighborhoods’ realities today,” said Margaret Baisley, a real estate attorney and a member of the Fix SoHo/NoHo Coalition.

“The City needs to finally listen and act on modernizing these antiquated zoning laws, which call back to a different era for the city, one that doesn’t stand up to today’s standards for equality and fairness.”

The full poll can be seen here. Polling was conducted online from September 24 through October 14, 2019. Using its Bias Correct Engine to attain a sample reflective of registered voters, Change Research polled 262 people in the voting districts that make up SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods. Voters were matched to their social media profile. Post-stratification weights were made on age, gender, and zip code to reflect the distribution of voters within the selected election districts.

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