August News Update: Street Closing & Mega-Development on the West Side

1) Regarding the proposed Fashion Week event seeking to close Greene Street to traffic, in order to allow a retailer to conduct an amplified, outdoor ‘fashion show’ for 750 people on our sidewalk:

The Community Board recommended denial of the permits that the applicant requested.  It now goes to the Mayor’s Streets Activities Permit Office for review.  We are unsure how the agency will respond; but at the hearing last week, the applicants stated they are paying the city $25,000 to get the permit.

The way things have been going at City Hall recently, we are not sure whether the community board’s advice will be heeded.  Stay tuned.

2) We are joining with our friends at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation to demand protection from a huge development project planned for the three-block long St. John’s Terminal Building site at Houston and West Streets.

There will be a public hearing on the proposal at City Planning Commission this Tuesday, August 24.

Some 200,000-300,000 square feet of ‘Big Box’ stores and ‘destination retail’ are proposed, which will draw enormous amounts of traffic from all over the metropolitan area.  View the renderings here.

The plan will also open the door to vastly increased development up and down the West SoHo and Greenwich Village waterfront using ‘air rights’ from the nearby Hudson River Park, and leave our nearby South Village community vulnerable to intensified development pressure with no protections for its historic, low-rise residential buildings.

WE NEED A HUGE TURNOUT TO DEMAND PROTECTIONS FOR THE NEARBY SOUTH VILLAGE AND WEST SOHO!

Join us in calling for

  • A ban on any future air rights transfers from the Hudson River Park within Community Board #2
  • An elimination of any ‘Big Box’ stores or ‘destination retail’ from the plan, with only moderately sized, locally oriented stores and a supermarket allowed

HOW TO HELP:

  • Come to the City Planning Commission public hearing on Wednesday, August 24 at 22 Reade Street (Broadway/Lafayette) starting at 10 a.m. (It should last for hours, so you can still come late and testify).

Testify or just show support.  Use letter here for sample testimony; click here for more details.

You can check the GVSHP twitter feed at twitter.com/gvshp starting at 10 am on the 24th for status updates about the hearing, when public testimony will begin and end, etc.

For more information, click here.

Regards,

Sean Sweeney, Director

SoHo Alliance

SoHo: Restaurants and shops mix with high rental costs

Screenshot 2016-05-16 10.34.52

Screenshot 2016-05-16 10.35.19

By Nikkitha Bakshani Special to amNewYork March 23, 2016
SoHo is a neighborhood with two faces: It’s touristy, but also
has a sense of community From shopping to art to the area’s history, there is something
here for everybody, locals say — that is, those who can afford it.
In terms of housing prices in the downtown Manhattan nabe,
“the sky is the limit,” said John Brandon, a licensed real estate
agent from Citi Habitats who works in the area.
SoHo’s median sales price has been above $2 million since
2012, according to the real estate listings site StreetEasy,
when the median price rose 16.5% year-over-year, from $1.995 million in 2011 to $2.325 million.
The median sales price in SoHo in 2015 was $2,672,500, which was down 10.8% from the 2014 median of $2.995 million, according to StreetEasy.
On the rental side, the median asking rent in SoHo in 2015 was $4,000, up 6.7% from $3,750 in 2014, according to StreetEasy.
By comparison, the median sales price in Manhattan as a whole in 2015 was $967,750, and the median asking rent was $3,195.
But longtime residents are staying put despite the rising prices.
“Although the astronomical housing prices have put living in SoHo out of reach for most New Yorkers, there is a remaining community of longtime residents that keep the neighborhood’s vibrancy alive,” noted Councilman Corey Johnson, whose district includes SoHo.
For example, he said SoHo residents make sure that zoning requirements are respected by retailers and developers, especially in the buildings in the area’s Cast Iron Historic District, which was designated by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1973.
Forty-year resident Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance, a volunteer advocacy group, said most retailers follow their guidelines and harmonize well with SoHo.
“We don’t want SoHo to become Herald Square,” he said.
This dynamic appeals to Maud Maron, a member of the local Community Board 2 who moved to SoHo four years ago with her husband and three kids.
“I was worried it would feel like a mall when we moved here, but I was surprised and pleased by the sense of community,” Maron, 44, said.
Still, for many New Yorkers, SoHo is an easily-accessible shopping hub, with everything from big brands like Uniqlo and Topshop to chic designers like GUESS, Sam Edelman and Rag & Bone to the department store Bloomingdale’s.
The area is also home to many art galleries, like Melet Mercantile, which has an appointment-only showroom of film and theater set designer ephemera, and Team Gallery, a commercial space, both on Wooster Street.
Food options range from upscale eateries like Balthazar at 80 Spring St. and The Mercer Kitchen at 99 Prince St. to halal trucks on street corners.
In terms of downsides to the neighborhood, two-year resident Ella West said its popularity attracts crowds of people and tourists, which can overwhelm locals.
“Broadway is not an option on the weekends,” said West, 26, who lives on the cobblestoned Crosby Street.
But SoHo residents love their easy access to public transit, with 12 train lines going to the area, she said. Its proximity to the West Side Highway is great for joggers and people with cars, and it is within walking distance of NoLita, Chinatown, the Lower East Side and TriBeCa.
“Because the rent is so high [in SoHo], some shops in the neighborhood have no problem charging $7 for a few walnuts,” West said. “It’s great to be able to pick up groceries in Chinatown, where you can find great produce and fish for a fraction of the price.”
Find it:
SoHo is bordered by West Houston Street to the north and Canal Street to the south, and stretches across from the West Side Highway to the west to Lafayette Street to the east, according to StreetEasy.

SoHo residents unhappy with bright new Beyonce Topshop ad

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MANHATTAN – A mega-billboard featuring mega celebrity Beyonce is causing a huge
stir in SoHo.

The video advertisement is outside the Topshop store on Broadway near Broome Street.
The illuminated display is for Beyonce’s athletic line that sells in Topshop stores, Ivy Park.
Shopper Steven Herling told PIX11 News, “if they pay for it and they are hiring Beyonce
for an ad they can make it as big as they want.”

But some SoHo residents are fed up.

Sean Sweeney, Director of the SoHo Alliance explains the issue is that it´s a “jumbotron.”
“It might be appropriate for Times Square but it´s not appropriate for a mixed use
neighborhood like SoHo,” Sweeney said.

The ad plays 24 hours a day. The light reflects off of businesses across the street and
shines into the apartments of some living nearby.

“We wish that the store owners who are here and the advertisers would take some
sensitivity,” Sweeney said. “Would they want this in their front yard? Would they want
this near their homes? I don’t think so. Why would they do this to SoHo residents?”
Topshop did not immediately respond to PIX11´s request for a comment regarding the billboard.

 

Blinded by the lights: Soho residents blitzed by blazing store windows

May 5, 2016 | Filed under: News | Posted by: The Villager

BY COLIN MIXSON | Soho locals say they’re living in perpetual daylight thanks to a proliferation of gaudy, illuminated marketing gizmos by Broadway retailers that beam an uninvited glow intoneighboring windows at all hours of the night.
Making matters worse, legislation was enacted to curb the noxious advertising schemes employed by local retailers in 2001, but the Department of Buildings — the agency responsible for enacting the provisions — has failed to set the standards necessary to enforce it, and residents feel like they’ve been left swaying in the wind.
“They’re covering their ass,” said Pete Davies, a 36-year resident of Broadway, and member of the ad-hoc community-based organization Broadway Residents Coalition.
Over the past few years, Broadway between Canal and E. Ninth Sts. has seen a sort of marketing arms race, as big-name fashion merchants — including Michael Kors, Kenneth Cole, H&M and Topshop — race to erect bigger and brighter LED displays than their retail rivals, and the problem is only getting worse.

Screenshot 2016-05-16 10.18.15
“The retailers just want attention for whatever they’re selling inside, and they get in competition with each other, so it’s spreading,” Davies said.
A new 20-foot-by-10-foot ad for Beyoncé’s new athletic gear is on a continuous video loop at Topshop, and some days is on for 24 hours straight.
“A lot of people come to Soho and see a shopping mall, but to us who live here, it’s our
neighborhood,” Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, told WPIX News. “The issue is that it’s a Jumbotron. It might be appropriate on Times Square, but not in a mixed-use neighborhood like Soho. Would the advertisers want this near their home, in their front yard? So why are they doing it to Soho residents?”
Adding to the illicit illumination, media juggernaut OUTFRONT Prime has taken to buying up billboards on Broadway and along nearby Broome St., and they’re not shy about letting locals know about it. The company has installed glowing nameplates on each of its newly acquired billboards, providing locals with a few thousand additional lumens worth of sleep-disturbing torment. In an effort to give community members some peace and darkness, the City Council passed a resolution introduced by former Soho Councilmember Kathryn Freed that requires the Department of Buildings to set standards for illuminated signs and how much light can be cast into nearby windows. The rule specifically applies to residences or artists’ joint living-work quarters in M1-3 manufacturing or C1-8 commercial districts.

It’s 15 years later, though, and those standards still have yet to be set, with the agency citing technical limitations as its excuse for letting the matter slide.
“There are limitations to promulgating a rule to establish what would constitute a reasonable uniform standard that would encapsulate and define a set level of illumination that evidently interferes with the use of a residence or joint living-work quarters for artists in M1-3 or C1-8 districts,” a Department of Buildings spokesperson said.
It’s unclear exactly what those technical difficulties are, but the problem may have as much to do with the legislation’s vague wording as it does with the agency’s physical limitations.
An agency official said the resolution’s wording makes it unclear whether it calls for a citywide standard on illuminated signs, or various standards tailored for specific areas. For instance, he questioned whether Times Square, a commercial area where super-bright lights are actually encouraged, should be held to the same standards as Soho or other residential neighborhoods. “There’s nothing in place to standardize whether that should be a citywide standard, or should the level of illumination vary from area to area,” the D.O.B. official noted. “Should everything be allowed to operate like Times Square, or should everything be scaled back?”

Meanwhile, locals are caught between the unending glow of local commerce and the city’s indecision — and no excuse is going to help them sleep at night.
“I think it’s called ‘doubletalk,’ ” Davies said. “I don’t know what they’re saying.”

IMPORTANT MEETING: Elizabeth St Garden Update

– ATTEND COMMUNITY BOARD MEETING TO PREVENT DESTRUCTION OF OUR GARDEN!
Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 pm at Scholastic Auditorium, 557 Broadway between Prince & Spring WEAR GREEN
We face a real danger that our beautiful Elizabeth Street Garden could be razed for development – but we can stop it with your help!
The NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development on Wednesday will present its plans for housing on the garden site, an invitation to developers to destroy our urban oasis.
If you support our efforts for a community garden in our park-starved neighborhood, please attend this meeting to let the HPD and the deBlasio Administration know we need less development and more green space in lower Manhattan
For more information on the garden, please click: http://elizabethstreetgarden.org/
Regards,
Sean Sweeney
Executive Director

NY Times Reports on SoHo BID Controversy

 

Critics of SoHo Proposal Ask, You Call This Improvement?

Pedestrian traffic is part of the fight over a plan for a business improvement district along Broadway in SoHo. By

  

Sean Sweeney, who leads a neighborhood group and worries about the crowds in SoHo, said, “We’re packed.”

Living in SoHo for decades has taught Sean Sweeney how to urge people to hurry up in several languages, though not without his blood pressure shooting up.“Rápido! Vite! Mach schnell!” he hisses as visiting crowds of shoppers shuffle along at a crawl. On weekends he sometimes barrels through packs of dawdlers like a bowling ball through pins. Once, when a group of people, coffees in hand, refused to move off his building’s stoop, the ensuing standoff nearly escalated into a fistfight.

Now there are plans to bring in a business improvement district — a public-private partnership that collects assessments to pay for local improvements like better sanitation, marketing and beautification — and Mr. Sweeney and many of his neighbors are not pleased.

“We don’t need a business improvement district; we need a resident improvement district,” said Mr. Sweeney, who moved into a loft on Greene Street in the early 1980s, during the hard-to-imagine days when SoHo’s soaring factory spaces were vacant and its streets desolate. “We’re packed.”

SoHo, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood so named because it is south of Houston Street, has in the past four decades been transformed from a hard-bitten haven for artists into a magnet for such luxury retailers as Prada and Chanel. Partly as a result, the neighborhood’s residents are in the unusual position of fighting a plan designed to improve conditions in their area, even though the method has been widely embraced throughout the city and is overwhelmingly viewed as helpful, and benign.

The controversy is in its second year and nearing a likely climax this March with a public hearing before the City Council. Not only has it tapped a primal fear among some in SoHo, it has also laid bare a neighborhood schism.

The artists who colonized the neighborhood decades ago may have secured castles in the sky, but they also find themselves surrounded by streets that are clogged by tourists and lined with giant retailers and luxury stores. For them, having a business improvement district formed with the help of real estate giants means ceding more ground to invaders who, they believe, want to increase pedestrian flow to be able to charge more for retail space.

“In SoHo, there’s always a concern that this neighborhood built by pioneers will be further eroded,” said State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat who represents the area and opposes the plan.

Brad Hoylman, the chairman of the local community board, which rejected the plan because of a lack of community support, was struck by the outcry.

“I can recall few issues where there has been as much vociferous opposition as the SoHo BID,” he said, referring to the district by its acronym.

But those who support the district say Mr. Sweeney, who himself leads a neighborhood activist group called the SoHo Alliance, and other opponents are fear-mongering and have got it all wrong.

The district, they say, would be formed largely to deal with the effects of the masses that fuel SoHo’s runaway retail success.

Every weekend, the garbage cans on Broadway overflow to the point where people resort to laying trash around them in rings, in what one local politician calls “a sort of tribute to the garbage pail.”

The Sanitation Department cannot keep up. Retailers have repeatedly been fined for messy sidewalks out front. Meanwhile, street vendors gobble up precious sidewalk space, choking pedestrian traffic. Supporters of the district say a full-time staff member could urge illegal vendors and food trucks to leave or could alert the police. Besides, proponents note, the proposed district itself would be only along Broadway between Houston and Canal Streets — and many dissenters live outside that zone.

“There’s no big, bad boogeyman; I don’t want more tourists on Broadway,” said Katy Rice, who supports the new district and who has lived on Broadway for nine years. “As a resident, I don’t want to step on trash, and I don’t want vendors selling hash pipes outside my door.”

The first stirrings of a proposal for the district came three or four years ago.

For nearly two decades, the nonprofit group ACE had supplied the area with street cleaners through a vocational program that provides transitional work experience for formerly homeless men and women.

But in the past five years, the group, which was founded by the philanthropist Henry Buhl, received fewer and fewer donations from residents and retailers along Broadway between Houston and Canal. Sometimes the budget shortfalls exceeded $100,000, and the group found itself diverting money from other programs.

“We were doing this for multinational corporations making billions, and this tiny nonprofit is shouldering this load for nothing,” said Jim Martin, ACE’s executive director.

So last summer, ACE stopped cleaning the Broadway stretch, and the garbage began piling up.

Mr. Buhl and some property owners had been floating the idea of creating the business improvement district by collecting regular assessments from property owners along Broadway to finance an agency that would have an executive director, organize regular street cleanings and tackle longtime thorny issues like illegal vending and food cart jams.

After the community outcry at the organizers’ initial plan, they rejiggered some aspects, including decreasing the district’s proposed budget to $550,000 and ensuring that owners of residential co-ops and condos would pay only nominal assessment fees.

Brian Steinwurtzel, who is on the district plan’s steering committee and whose family owns two buildings on the strip, said his group had been reaching out to residents along Broadway and had slowly but steadily won broad support.

“This is about sweeping the sidewalks, cleaning the intersections and crosswalks, especially when it’s snowing, and it’s about taking the garbage and providing more garbage cans,” Mr. Steinwurtzel said. “The people who are part of ‘SoHo No BID,’ I would love it if they would help participate in this,” he added, referring to a group of the plan’s critics.

Meanwhile, several residents on Broadway who initially opposed the plan said they found themselves supporting it.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about the BID,” said Cheryl Klauss, a photographer who has lived on Broadway for 30 years. “I think it’s going to take care of the ramifications of having so many tourists here.”

But many residents remain entrenched in their opposition. They worry that the district would give the upper hand to real estate titans with properties in the neighborhood and that it would eventually be expanded.

They also argue that the proposed budget, now set at roughly $550,000, remains excessive, and that SoHo might find itself festooned with holiday lights and signs that would drive in yet more tourists.

“BIDs & not-for-profits are carving up NYC and claiming those areas as their fiefdoms, bankrolled by taxpayer money,” Pete Davies, of the SoHo No BID committee, wrote in an e-mail.

Another critic, Jamie Johnson, said the plan was an overly expensive solution to a terrible trash problem. “It’s ‘Let’s put in a chandelier when we only need a light bulb,’ ” she said.

SoHo to NYU: Don’t Overwhelm Our Neighborhoods!

Community to University: Don’t Overwhelm Our Neighborhoods!
Written by AlanKrawitz on February 16, 2012.

In so many ways, New York University has been a good neighbor and an integral, if not vital, part of the Downtown community.

But, when it comes to the venerable school’s ambitious, super-sized building plans, dubbed NYU 2031, which would add four new buildings covering several million square feet within the Washington Square core, many longtime residents of the Village are beginning to see the school in a less-than-neighborly light.

“We love the school, hate the plan,” said Brad Hoylman, chairman of Community Board 2, who attended Saturday’s rally at Judson Church, where hundreds turned out to protest NYU’s massive building plans.

Holding signs with slogans that read, “Flowers, not towers,” and “Condemned by NYU: Gardens going, going, gone,” a crowd of nearly 500 that included village residents, community activists and politicians expressed their disapproval of the scale and scope of NYU’s 20-year building plan that would effectively remake the face of Greenwich Village and the surrounding area.

“NYU’s position is to change the area zoning from its current residential/institutional character to one that emulates the center of Manhattan,” said Janet Hayes, a Republican district leader who attended the rally and lives on LaGuardia Place, near a Morton Williams Supermarket that is the site of a proposed school. “The 20-year plan allows for a high-rise, 40-story, block-long building and large commercial tenancies.”

Hayes added that many villagers see the NYU plan as self-serving, as opposed to the neighborhoods’ aspirations to preserve the character of the area. She also pointed out that the school had received—and declined—numerous offers to expand in Lower Manhattan below Canal Street.

Assembly Member Deborah Glick said that the plan in its current form would “severely alter” the low-rise character and quality of the Village. “In addition,” Glick said, “the four new towers would cast shadows where there were previously none.”

Hoylman called the rally at Judson Church a “call to action” as the board nears its Thursday, Feb. 23 deadline to consider a resolution on this issue and then send it on to the Department of City Planning on March 11. “Our recommendation, while advisory,” said Hoylman, “packs a punch.”

The NYU 2031 Plan is only a month into the lengthy, 7-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure that involves approvals and recommendations from the Community Board, the borough president, Department of City Planning, City Council and the mayor.

While many in the community are already calling for the NYU plan to be scaled back, Hoylman says that the plan is too concentrated in a very small, dense area and will ultimately bring thousands of new residents, students and faculty members to an already overpopulated and vulnerable neighborhood that includes seniors and rent-stabilized residents.

“At the moment, there is really no flexibility on NYU’s part,” he said.

In response to the rally, NYU spokesman John Beckman issued the following statement: “As NYU continues to move through the city’s mandated public review process, we look forward to continuing our discussions with all stakeholders involved.”

Older residents have talked to me that the NYU 2031 plan resonates with Occupy Wall Street. Here we do not have a large financial institution but a financially well-endowed institution where elite interests and political dealings have likely trumped the people’s voice,” Jeanne Wilcke, president of the Downtown Independent Democrats.

Sean Sweeney, a member of CB2 and the SoHo Alliance, sees the NYU plan as having even more far-reaching effects.

“Although many say that this NYU plan will affect the Village only, in fact it will severely impact Soho, Noho and Tribeca much more than most of the Village, since the plans for construction are focused on Houston Street and the two blocks north of that [Bleecker and West 3rd streets],” Sweeney said.

“As a result, we would expect to get the ill effects of construction in Soho as well as hordes of students from the dorms proposed just across the street from our community…Think more beer pong bars and fewer fine dining establishments.”

– Alan Krawitz