Why SoHo/NoHo?

WHY SOHO/NOHO NOW?


SoHo and NoHo are dynamic mixed-use neighborhoods with an established residential population, strong office, retail and creative industries that have evolved beyond what was contemplated by the M1-5A and M1-5B zoning that was established nearly five decades ago. Consequently, policies enshrined in zoning and other regulations in the early 1970's have become ineffective and present increasing challenges to the continued vitality of SoHo/NoHo.

  • The issue the 1971 M1-5A and M1-5B zoning aimed to address was narrow: providing a path for the existing working artist enclave to legalize, while preserving space for the shrinking yet important textile manufacturing and wholesale businesses.
  • Issues SoHo/NoHo confront today are multifaceted and drastically different from those 50 years ago: uncertainty surrounding residential occupancies where artists and others coexist, changing economic landscape and workplace culture (especially around retail, office, and new economy maker uses), quality of life in mixed-use neighborhoods, among others.


Shaped by an increased diversity of residents and businesses and a modernizing, post-industrial economy, SoHo and NoHo have seen an unsustainable volume of individual land use applications and approvals. For example, since 2000, the City has granted over 90 special permits in SoHo and NoHo, the majority of which were to allow or legalize retail and residential uses. Within the same time frame, the number of special permits granted in adjacent Manhattan neighborhoods were significantly fewer: 21 in Community District 3, and 51 in Community District 1.

While they provide a forum for the City Planning Commission, Community Board, and elected officials to advise on land use changes, special permits and variances are not effective vehicles - due to their scope and purpose - to examine macro-economic trends that affect the neighborhoods beyond a single site, or holistically address the implications of incremental and cumulative changes facilitated by one-off approvals.

Additionally, overreliance on special permits and variances also means that the regulatory burden disproportionally falls on smaller businesses and property owners, who are less-equipped with financial resources and sophistication to navigate the complicated, lengthy and sometimes unpredictable governmental, environmental, and public review processes.


In recent years, it became clear to many residents, local stakeholders, elected officials and the City that we needed to address neighborhood-wide planning issues and challenges brought by a changing society and economy, and foster continued cultural and economic vitality in SoHo and NoHo strategically and holistically.

After initial research on existing land use, demographic, and economic conditions of the neighborhoods, in January 2019, Borough President Brewer, Department of City Planning Director Lago and Council Member Chin announced the start of the community engagement process. The goal of the engagement is to deepen understanding of existing neighborhood conditions and needs of the people who live, work and create in SoHo and NoHo, and encourage an informed public dialogue that is focused on neighborhood priorities and planning strategies for the future of the two neighborhoods.


NEIGHBORHOOD BACKGROUND

The M1-5A and M1-5B districts (“M1-5A/B”), mapped exclusively in SoHo/NoHo, are unique manufacturing districts created in 1971 to balance the needs of a shrinking manufacturing sector and the growing artist community.

As is the case for most manufacturing districts, in M1-5A/B residential use is generally prohibited while priority is given to light industrial and commercial uses. Unlike typical manufacturing districts, M1-5A/B has special provisions to address unique conditions in SoHo/NoHo that existed throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. These special regulations include the prohibition on certain commercial uses, such as retail, on ground floors of buildings and reservation of these ground floors for manufacturing and heavy commercial uses that service the industrial sector, as well as the allowance for “live-work” as a manufacturing use provided that the space is occupied by artists certified by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (i.e. Use Group 17D Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists).

SoHo and NoHo have changed in the nearly 50-year period since the adoption of the unique M1-5A/M1-5B zoning. Today, SoHo/NoHo is home to:

  • About 8,000 New Yorkers who engage in a wide range of professions, representing a more significant residential presence than in typical manufacturing districts;
  • More than 51,000 jobs, primarily in office, retail, accommodation, food, and other non-industrial sectors;
  • Major creative centers - over 25% of the area’s total jobs are in the creative industries;
  • Major economic drivers - SoHo’s retail sales rank second citywide among shopping districts, and 10th nationally.


WHY SOHO/NOHO NOW?


SoHo and NoHo are dynamic mixed-use neighborhoods with an established residential population, strong office, retail and creative industries that have evolved beyond what was contemplated by the M1-5A and M1-5B zoning that was established nearly five decades ago. Consequently, policies enshrined in zoning and other regulations in the early 1970's have become ineffective and present increasing challenges to the continued vitality of SoHo/NoHo.

  • The issue the 1971 M1-5A and M1-5B zoning aimed to address was narrow: providing a path for the existing working artist enclave to legalize, while preserving space for the shrinking yet important textile manufacturing and wholesale businesses.
  • Issues SoHo/NoHo confront today are multifaceted and drastically different from those 50 years ago: uncertainty surrounding residential occupancies where artists and others coexist, changing economic landscape and workplace culture (especially around retail, office, and new economy maker uses), quality of life in mixed-use neighborhoods, among others.


Shaped by an increased diversity of residents and businesses and a modernizing, post-industrial economy, SoHo and NoHo have seen an unsustainable volume of individual land use applications and approvals. For example, since 2000, the City has granted over 90 special permits in SoHo and NoHo, the majority of which were to allow or legalize retail and residential uses. Within the same time frame, the number of special permits granted in adjacent Manhattan neighborhoods were significantly fewer: 21 in Community District 3, and 51 in Community District 1.

While they provide a forum for the City Planning Commission, Community Board, and elected officials to advise on land use changes, special permits and variances are not effective vehicles - due to their scope and purpose - to examine macro-economic trends that affect the neighborhoods beyond a single site, or holistically address the implications of incremental and cumulative changes facilitated by one-off approvals.

Additionally, overreliance on special permits and variances also means that the regulatory burden disproportionally falls on smaller businesses and property owners, who are less-equipped with financial resources and sophistication to navigate the complicated, lengthy and sometimes unpredictable governmental, environmental, and public review processes.


In recent years, it became clear to many residents, local stakeholders, elected officials and the City that we needed to address neighborhood-wide planning issues and challenges brought by a changing society and economy, and foster continued cultural and economic vitality in SoHo and NoHo strategically and holistically.

After initial research on existing land use, demographic, and economic conditions of the neighborhoods, in January 2019, Borough President Brewer, Department of City Planning Director Lago and Council Member Chin announced the start of the community engagement process. The goal of the engagement is to deepen understanding of existing neighborhood conditions and needs of the people who live, work and create in SoHo and NoHo, and encourage an informed public dialogue that is focused on neighborhood priorities and planning strategies for the future of the two neighborhoods.


NEIGHBORHOOD BACKGROUND

The M1-5A and M1-5B districts (“M1-5A/B”), mapped exclusively in SoHo/NoHo, are unique manufacturing districts created in 1971 to balance the needs of a shrinking manufacturing sector and the growing artist community.

As is the case for most manufacturing districts, in M1-5A/B residential use is generally prohibited while priority is given to light industrial and commercial uses. Unlike typical manufacturing districts, M1-5A/B has special provisions to address unique conditions in SoHo/NoHo that existed throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. These special regulations include the prohibition on certain commercial uses, such as retail, on ground floors of buildings and reservation of these ground floors for manufacturing and heavy commercial uses that service the industrial sector, as well as the allowance for “live-work” as a manufacturing use provided that the space is occupied by artists certified by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (i.e. Use Group 17D Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists).

SoHo and NoHo have changed in the nearly 50-year period since the adoption of the unique M1-5A/M1-5B zoning. Today, SoHo/NoHo is home to:

  • About 8,000 New Yorkers who engage in a wide range of professions, representing a more significant residential presence than in typical manufacturing districts;
  • More than 51,000 jobs, primarily in office, retail, accommodation, food, and other non-industrial sectors;
  • Major creative centers - over 25% of the area’s total jobs are in the creative industries;
  • Major economic drivers - SoHo’s retail sales rank second citywide among shopping districts, and 10th nationally.