Who’d have thought a city zoning plan would be compared to a Supreme Court nomination!
Still, one state lawmaker made the comparison during a Department of City Planning meeting this week about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial plans to add thousands of new apartments to Manhattan’s posh Soho and Noho neighborhoods.
“This is the Amy Coney Barrett of rezoning proposals,” said state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), who likened the timing of the proposal to congressional Democrats’ gripes about President Trump’s late fourth-year appointment to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
He said the plan should be paused until de Blasio’s successor — the term-limited mayor has just one year left in office — takes over in January 2022.
“Frankly, under the cloud of COVID, I don’t think appropriate public policy decisions are going to be made,” Hoylman argued.
The proposal would allow developers to build up to 3,200 new apartments. A quarter of the units would have their rents regulated and be set aside for middle or working-class New Yorkers under city rules.
It would also remove the special permitting requirements that had built up over the years in the two one-time industrial neighborhoods, including provisions that required some residents to register as artists to qualify to live in the area.
The proposal is backed by neighborhood Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, both of whom must also leave their posts in 2021 due to term limits.
Hoylman offered a litany of complaints about the plan in a subsequent interview with The Post — claiming the zoning changes would allow buildings that are too big and would not provide enough affordable housing.
He also argued that City Hall should not allow developers to apply for incentives in exchange for putting additional units under rent regulation.
“I think 800 units isn’t enough especially when it threatens the scale of one of the world’s most iconic neighborhoods,” added Hoylman, who is running to replace Brewer. “Context is going to be key — and we need to plan from the ground up rather than dropping a fully baked pie from the sky.”
Hoylman’s broadside infuriated housing activists, who have been pressing City Hall to add housing to Manhattan’s core for years.
“I gasped, that’s not an exaggeration,” said Amelia Josephson, a board member of the pro-housing group Open New York, who attended the virtual meeting. “The senator made an ignorant comment, comparing the long list of economic and racial justice groups behind it to an extremist who threatens New Yorkers rights.”
A city official was even blunter, calling Hoylman’s remarks “a lot of bulls–t.”
“We’ve been working on this for a year and a half, this isn’t, ‘There are 43 days left in the administration’,” the person added. “It’s hardly out of left field.”
Like Holyman, preservationists and anti-development activists contend the rezoning will result in buildings that are too large for the neighborhoods and would fail to provide enough affordable housing — and the changes would likely benefit a large de Blasio donor.
The reason why is easily found on a map. Many Soho and Noho blocks are protected from any future development under the city’s preservation laws, which means new construction would be focused on the empty spaces in the neighborhoods — including two parking lots owned by de Blasio-linked Edison Properties.
The company’s former chairman Jerome Gottesman — now deceased — and retired CEO Steve Nislick gave tens of thousands of dollars to Hizzoner’s campaigns and the scandal-scarred nonprofit he ran, the Campaign for One New York.
The preservationists and anti-development activists also contend that de Blasio’s decision to push ahead earlier this month was driven by politics.
The mayor announced the move as he came under fire for bowing to quality of life complaints from Upper West Side residents, who were upset about the relocation of hundreds of homeless New Yorkers from shelters to local hotels to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s a dumb political thing,” conceded a former administration official. “Residents feel like the mayor’s doing it to make a political point — and you know what, he is.”
City Hall press secretary Bill Neidhardt rejected the criticisms, saying the plan would help open up one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods where the average asking price for rent remains above $4,000 a month even amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“Soho and Noho have changed quite a bit, and it’s time for thoughtful, progressive zoning changes,” Neidhardt added. “City Hall is committed to making these iconic neighborhoods more accessible than ever.”
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