On June 13th at 6 p.m. an advisory group will layout preliminary recommendations to possibly rezone SoHo and NoHo. The gathering at 130 Mercer follows six months of town halls where neighborhood residents and property owners voiced strong opinions about rezoning.
“We need to change the zoning … so that everybody that lives upstairs is legal and all the retail stores are legal,” said artist Susan Meisel. Meisel breaks with many of her fellow artists in thinking the rezoning is long overdue.
Meisel is one of the artists who helped to transform SoHo in the 1960s and 70s into the thriving area it is today.
They moved into empty, industrial lofts, using them as living and working spaces, although the area was, and is, zoned M1-5A and B, which generally allows for light manufacturing and not residential or retail.
But in 1971, the live-work spaces became legal for artists who obtained city certification.
“I feel very lucky to live here. I’m one of the lucky ones, I did get artist certification,” said Meisel.
Meisel is one of nearly 6,000 since 1971 who the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs certified as artists who could live and work in SoHo and NoHo. Nearly 8000 people currently live in the neighborhoods.
SoHo stretches south from Houston to Canal Streets and neighboring NoHo runs North from Houston to Astor Place.
According to the city, SoHo’s retail sector ranks second citywide, and 10th nationally, but retail is technically banned in many of the buildings.
Developers and landlords generally support rezoning, but there is fierce opposition.
"If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance.
Sweeney worries the rezoning will displace artists and change the area's character.
“The real estate people want to make it easier to have retail here, easier to have big box stores, easier to have large restaurants, easier to have nightclubs,” he said.
Building owner Michael Salzhauer says he wants to make it easier for his tenants.
“There are businesses that can’t come here because of zoning restriction. The zoning is really archaic,” said Salzhauer.
He says red tape piles up getting special permits for stores.
Just last year the city fined Zara on Broadway $1,250 for using its second floor for retail instead of what zoning dictates: as a factory and sales rooms.
“It hurts the vitality of the area,” said Saltzhauer.
In the beginning of 2019, City Council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer launched the SoHo NoHo Planning Process Initiative with the Department of City Planning.
The stated goal: “to examine key land use and zoning issues in the two neighborhoods and seek community input to develop strategies to both honor SoHo/NoHo’s history and ensure the continued vitality of the neighborhoods.”
If rezoning is chosen, there would still be a long planning process and then plenty of votes needed from elected leaders.