Outrage after town planning representative denounces Soho / Noho alternative zoning plan as bogus, “magical thinking” – The Village Sun


BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | There may be a heat wave, but things got even hotter in Soho and Noho last week after a senior planning official accused opponents of the rezoning of claiming only to care about affordable housing. .

Indignant community activists are now demanding that the words of the planner be “exposed and repudiated” and that “appropriate action be taken” against the woman and two of her colleagues who were at a meeting last Thursday where the comments were made.

The flap overshadowed the fact that the state Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron the day before ruled against a community lawsuit aimed at blocking the city’s Soho / Noho dezoning plan. The plaintiffs argued that the city had failed to give Community Board 2 sufficient notice of its intention to launch the public review of the rezoning, and that it was “muting” criticism of the plan by holding meetings on the plan. Zoom rather than in person.

Initially, Judge Engoron had said that “insufficient notice equals no notice”. But last Wednesday he flipped over and said in a terse decision that “a notification doesn’t have to be perfect.”

In an email after the verdict, Sean Sweeney, the director of the Soho Alliance, said: “We still have several options available and will discuss our next move with our lawyer this week.”

Meanwhile, at the CB 2 meeting on dezoning of Soho / Noho last Thursday, which was held in person, Christopher Marte, the Democratic candidate for District 1 city council, said he was against to the project because it would displace existing residents, especially low-income people. those in the rezoning’s Chinatown.

But right after Marte’s intervention, Sylvia Li, senior planner in the Department of Urban Planning, lashed out against the Alternative Community Zoning Plan for Soho and Noho, created by Village Preservation and supported by a dozen local community groups. . The alternative plan supports increasing the supply of affordable housing in the two inner city neighborhoods – but unlike Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan, does not rely on development at market rates to do so.

Li told the meeting that the alternative zoning plan “encourages people to engage in magical thinking that is not rooted in reality…. We don’t think this is a plan motivated by genuine displacement concern, ”she said,“ or… the desire to introduce more affordable housing.

“What? Insulting! Sean Sweeney, the director of the Soho Alliance, blurted out the audience as Li spoke.

In response, the dozen groups wrote a joint letter to Town Planning, Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council members Margaret Chin, Carlina Rivera and Corey Johnson, demanding that Li’s statements be “exposed and repudiated ”and that“ appropriate action ”be taken against her, as well as Edith-Hsu Chen, the director of Manhattan town planning, and the attorney for the department, who were also present at the meeting.

In an interview with The Village Sun, Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation, called Li’s comments “despicable” and “ironic.”

“What Sylvia Li said was quite contemptible,” he said. “Yet what was even worse was that the City Planning attorney and the manager of her Manhattan office were sitting on the platform with Li and seemed to agree with what she was saying – certainly no one. not criticized him. And she said she was speaking for the whole department, not just herself, which would have been pretty bad.

“It’s incredibly ironic,” Berman said of Li’s diss. “The planning department has been hiding from the start that their plan would impact the low-income community of Chinatown. We believe that rezoning would threaten and destroy a lot of affordable housing.

On the other hand, opponents accuse the city’s proposal of being riddled with loopholes that would allow developers to avoid creating affordable housing.

Meanwhile, Berman said, it’s no surprise that the big planning boss is criticizing the alternative plan because “he doesn’t have any freebies or freebies for developers who want the mayor’s plan.”

According to Berman and his allies, dezoning Blasio would open the floodgates to “massive overzoning”, with big box stores, hotels, condos and offices, and allow New York University to penetrate the enclaves. loaded with cachet.

Sylvia Li, senior planner in the Department of Urban Planning, asserted that an alternative Village Preservation zoning plan supported by residents of Soho and Noho is not motivated by a genuine concern for residential relocation or affordable housing .

The Alternative Community Zoning Plan, on the other hand, calls for affordable housing to be built on open-air parking lots and on sites currently occupied by one- to three-story buildings that have no residents, and requires that as many new units as possible are affordable.

“But that doesn’t create the developer boon that our mayor promised,” Berman noted of why Li and others reject the alternate scenario.

The curator dubbed Li’s startling words “psychological projection.” In fact, he said, it’s actually the city that doesn’t care about the move in trying to enforce the developers coveted rezoning.

“It’s straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook – saying we don’t care about travel and affordable housing,” Berman scoffed.

He added that the planner’s remarks were insulting not only to Village Preservation, which has spent weeks developing the zoning change proposal, but also to the groups supporting it.

“To discredit the motives of nonprofit community groups that work for neighborhood residents is despicable,” Berman said. “And for them to question our concern for neighbors who are evicted and the affordability of our neighborhoods is the height of hypocrisy and deviation.”

Groups supporting Village Preservation’s Alternative Community Zoning Plan include Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Bowery Block Association, Broadway Residents Coalition, East Village Community Coalition, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants, New York City Loft Tenants, Noho Neighborhood Association, Soho Alliance, Soho Design District, South Village Neighbors and Tribeca Trust.

As to the motive for the highly unusual public attack, Berman said, “I think they realize they don’t have any support in the neighborhood for it. So they want to try to invalidate the opinion of the residents of the neighborhood – those who would be most affected by the plan. “

He added that Li’s remarks were also “insulting” to Marte, who is set to become the new Lower Manhattan council member if he defeats two opponents, a Republican and an independent candidate, in the November general election. .

Meanwhile, in an email, Sweeney of the Soho Alliance called Li’s comments “libelous” against the 12 groups that support the Community Alternative Zoning Plan.

“Sylvia Li – without any provocation – made perhaps the most contemptuous comments ever made by a government official at a meeting of the board of directors of the community,” he fulminated in an e- mail to the Soho Alliance mailing list.

Li has smugly stated that we stand for, unlike her, ‘are not really concerned about tenants’ rights,’ implying that groups like Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants and New York Loft Tenants are not. not ‘tenant advocates’, ‘didn’t care about housing’ and had no ‘real concerns’ about relocation, ”Sweeney said. “This is the same person who referred to the residents of Soho / Noho at a previous meeting as ‘relics’.”

The longtime Soho frontman said Li just had to go.

“Ms. Li’s biased comments have poisoned this whole rezoning process,” he said, “and she should be removed as team leader immediately before she does any more harm.”

In follow-up remarks to The Village Sun, Sweeney said of Li: “She has a clear bias and animosity towards the very people and communities that her agency claims to try to help and she has shown her true colors. . “

In addition to being outraged by the words of the town planner, opponents of rezoning also question his links with real estate groups.

Li co-chairs P / PREP (Public-Private Real Estate Professionals). According to its website, P / PREP is a group of 700 professionals who work on public-private real estate and economic development projects, employed by a range of government agencies and large real estate development, consultancy, law, finance and design. .

On May 20, Li attended a “breakfast meeting” coordinated by WX, Inc.

Among the meeting attendees was Olivia Moss, Director of HR&A Associates, who describes herself as “an industry leader in delivering comprehensive real estate strategies to unlock value and create vibrant places”. Meanwhile, opponents of rezoning say Soho and Noho are already more than dynamic enough.

Li used an HR&A report as a blueprint during the Envision Soho / Noho 2019 outreach meetings that many community members attended. The company’s report focused on “Implications of Retail Restrictions.”

According to rezoning foes, Li also failed to mention that his friends HR&A report was paid for by 11 Soho / Noho owners who want to remove these retail restrictions.

Urban planning is now calling for unlimited retail sizes and a 250% increase in building volume and height in parts of Soho / Noho.

Another participant at the May 20 breakfast was Casey Martinez from United American Land. The company is one of the city’s largest real estate developers, owning more than five dozen large properties, including more than a dozen in Soho.

Mark Dicus, executive director of the Soho Broadway Business Improvement District, and Elise Wagner, senior partner in the land use planning department at Kramer Levin, the international “benchmark law firm” for high-profile real estate, were also at power nosh. developers.

“With bed mates like these, is it any wonder Sylvia Li has tainted the community’s attempts to preserve and protect our neighborhood? Sweeney accused in his email. “It should be removed immediately.”

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