The Architect’s Newspaper

With the Industry City rezoning dead, NYC turns its eye to SoHo

SoHo, next up for a rezoning, in the winter with snow

SoHo in the winter (Lerone Pieters/Unsplash)

After a summer of setbacks for the de Blasio administration—the private industry-led Industry City rezoning in Brooklyn collapsed and the Inwood rezoning faces stiff resistance in court—SoHo is the next Manhattan neighborhood targeted for redevelopment.

Yesterday, the administration announced that SoHo and NoHo would be targeted next, with plans to build up to 3,200 new apartments, with 800 of them marked as permanently affordable. For those unfamiliar with the area’s history, the formerly industrial zone was taken over by artists looking for cheap studio space and lofts in the 1960s and ’70s, then those artists were gradually priced out and the neighborhood became the go-to destination for strips of high-end retail and multimillion-dollar condos. However, the unique zoning enshrined in the early ’70s to entice artists to move to SoHo and NoHo hasn’t been updated since, severely restricting development.

With retail foot traffic cratering in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the city announced it was the perfect time to reconsider the two neighborhoods’ role.

“The SoHo/NoHo rezoning is a critical step to promote fair housing and ensure that these two neighborhoods and New York City as a whole recover fairly and robustly,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been in the announcement. “The pandemic and the movement for racial justice make clear that all neighborhoods must pull their weight to provide safe, affordable housing options. Updating the zoning in one of the city’s most iconic retail districts also will give arts and cultural organizations, retail, and other businesses more flexible options to recover, adapt, and succeed.”

The area targeted for rezoning stretches from Canal Street at the south to Houston Street and Astor Place at the north, and from Sixth Avenue and West Broadway at the western edges to Lafayette Street and the Bowery at the east. While the city claims that by enacting a new zoning area, the “onerous” burden on retail of obtaining approvals in a neighborhood zoned for manufacturing and live-work units will be lifted, as Paul Goldberger pointed out on Twitter, most of SoHo has already been designated as a historic district. Although specifics haven’t been released yet, in the Mayor’s announcement it seemed the administration would be targeting areas that fall outside of the designation and potentially infilling vacant lots. As the announcement from the city noted:

“Inside the historic districts, contextual zoning will guide building form and scale in keeping with historic context. Outside of the historic districts, an appropriate building envelope will be established to maximize potential for housing and affordability while aligning with the area’s loft building form.”

Still, it remains to be seen how much of a role the Landmarks Preservation Commission will play in the rezoning, or if the opposition will be as fierce; SoHo isn’t exactly the same hub of working-class resistance that organized against the previously mentioned rezonings and the Amazon headquarters proposed for Long Island City.

The SoHo/NoHo Neighborhood Plan is the culmination of six months of community planning and feedback collected by the city. The next step will be conducting scoping for the environmental review, expected to be completed later this year, and then the plan’s formal entry into the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) sometime in 2021.