SoHo Ain’t Herald Square

 Screenshot 2017-03-05 19.04.55
– Permit Sought for 4 Floors of Oversized 45,201sf Department Store at 462 Broadway
– Attend Community Board Meeting Wednesday to Speak Out Against the Plan
 
Under SoHo’s unique and successful zoning, retail stores greater than 10,000 sq ft require a Special Permit from the City Planning Commission to operate.  This is to encourage smaller, independent, creative retailers and to prevent large flagship stores from overwhelming our community.
It worked well at first.  However, in the past decade or two, the Department of Buildings has basically turned its back on enforcing these zoning laws.  Oversized stores have sprung up along Broadway, like Bloomingdale’s, Old Navy, Zara, Hollister, Nike, American Eagle and UNIQLO –  to the detriment of SoHo.  Residents complain of swarms of shoppers, increasingly congested sidewalks, crowded subway platforms, noise and disturbance from late-night construction and deliveries, and oppressive illumination.
Lately SoHo activists have been putting pressure on the Buildings Department, City Planning, our elected officials and the community board to curtail this abuse.  As a result, we now see developers applying for the Special Permit.  This permit process mandates community review and input, giving us an opportunity to amend and even reject the proposal if it causes negative impacts on the neighborhood.
462 Broadway is the block-long building on the northeast corner with Grand that stretches to Crosby, former home of the French Culinary Institute. The owner has applied for a Special Permit to use four floors of the building as a 45,201 sq ft department store. See the rendering at the bottom of this email.

The community board has scheduled a meeting to hear the presentation and to give us an opportunity to voice our opinion on whether SoHo needs yet another megastore.  If this Special Permit is granted, expect other developers to follow suit and have these stores spring up not only on Broadway, but the side streets as well.  Who wants to live in Herald Square?

WHAT: Land Use & Business Development Committee, Community Board 2
WHEN: Wednesday, March 8, 6:30 pm
WHERE: NYU Building, 194 Mercer Street (Houston/Bleecker), Room 306 (ID Required)
Regards,
Sean Sweeney
Director, SoHo Alliance
PO Box 429
New York, NY 10012

 

You’re fired! Stars shun Trump Soho Hotel

You’re fired! Stars shun Trump Soho Hotel

BY DENNIS LYNCH | The Trump Soho Hotel is not the place to be anymore, at least for members of the New York paparazzi. Sightings — of both the “shooters” and their celebrity prey — have sharply decreased since Donald Trump rose to the top of the Republican Party and won this year’s presidential election, according to pavement-pounding pap.

“Almost nobody has stayed there for the last six months at least,” said the photographer, who hasn’t snapped pictures of any celebs there since around April. “Most A-listers now stay at the Greenwich Hotel owned by [Robert] De Niro, or the Bowery Hotel or the Mercer Hotel, some Uptown at the Ritz [Carlton] or London [NYC]. It’s possible some celebs are staying [at the Trump Soho], but not the usual numbers who were before.”

Paparazzi have not been seen hanging around the front of the Trump Soho Hotel for the past six months — because their favorite subject, celebrities, are reportedly no longer staying there. In the past, paparazzi could frequently be seen standing to either side of the front door waiting for stars — like singers Rihanna or Chris Brown or TV actors — to enter and exit. Photos by Jonathan Alpeyrie

Paparazzi have not been seen hanging around the front of the Trump Soho Hotel for the past six months — because their favorite subject, celebrities, are reportedly no longer staying there. In the past, paparazzi could frequently be seen standing to either side of the front door waiting for stars — like singers Rihanna or Chris Brown or TV actors — to enter and exit. Photos by Jonathan Alpeyrie

The photographer speculated that many entertainment stars are avoiding the Trump Soho because of its connection to the president-elect, or that a booker with connections to the many network TV morning shows and studios Uptown possibly left the organization at some point for unknown reasons, as well.

The decrease in sightings confirms the findings from some data scientists who track the hotel bookings of famous and common folk alike. Hipmunk, a San Francisco-based travel company, found that the share of Trump-branded bookings on its site fell around 58 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.

The data scientists over at the discovery-focused mobile app Foursquare also noted that foot traffic to Trump’s U.S. hotels, casinos and golf courses was down every month of 2016 compared to those same months in 2015, except in January and February, when they increased by 4 and 5 percent, respectively. Between March and July of this year, traffic was down between 14 and 17 percent compared to those same months in 2015.

Doormen at the Trump Soho Hotel, at Varick and Spring Sts., don’t have to keep paparazzi at bay much lately, since the stars aren’t staying there anymore.

Doormen at the Trump Soho Hotel, at Varick and Spring Sts., don’t have to keep paparazzi at bay much lately, since the stars aren’t staying there anymore.

Cleveland Cavaliers hoops superstar LeBron James and “several” of his teammates made headlines earlier this month when they decided to lay their heads elsewhere during a trip to the Big Apple for a game against the hometown Knicks. James was diplomatic about the choice, telling reporters during a shootaround at Madison Square Garden that it was just his “personal preference.”

“At the end of the day, I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever for all of our sake, my family, for all of us,” the three-time NBA champ said, according to CNN. “But [it’s] just not my personal preference. It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak.”

The Los Angeles Lakers organization also chose to stay elsewhere during a trip to face the Brooklyn Nets following the election. A source told the Los Angeles Times that the basketball team’s decision was motivated by security concerns surrounding the protests that cropped up at President-elect Trump’s many properties since his November victory, not politics.

The Trump Soho Hotel did not return requests for comment.

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.

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

Loft Overhaul Urged in SoHo

By

Joseph De Avila
June 8, 2011

Wooster Street in Manhattan’s SoHo area is lined with loft buildings. Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

A group of property owners and other real-estate people is proposing to repeal a rule dating back decades that requires residential lofts in SoHo to be set aside for working artists.

During the 1960s, artists illegally converted many of the unused industrial spaces in SoHo into live-work lofts. The city eventually legalized the conversions on the condition that there be at least one city-certified artist living in each loft. Dozens of buildings in SoHo and NoHo are covered under this regulation.

As SoHo continued to develop, more people moved into the increasingly trendy neighborhood. Many of the new residents weren’t certified artists, but the requirement was widely ignored by city regulators for years, property owners say.

Things changed about a year ago when city regulators began cracking down on the rule, according to opponents of the artist requirement. That prompted calls to eliminate the requirement that opponents say is antiquated and ignores the current character of the neighborhood. Co-op boards and condo associations could also be legally at risk for ignoring the artist requirement, people in the industry said.

“We are tired of putting up with the charade of certified artists,” said Margaret Baisley, a real-estate attorney who says four of her clients in the past four months have lost sales because the sudden enforcement has spooked buyers. “We twist like pretzels to comply with this law.”

Ms. Baisley also owns a commercial loft on Broadway that she would like to convert into a residential space. “We’d like to convert them legally and live here in peace,” Ms. Baisley said.

Buildings officials say they are just enforcing zoning rules. “The city’s zoning resolution requires tenants to have artist-in-residence certification in order to live in this light manufacturing district. The Department will continue to enforce the Zoning Resolution as it is written,” Jennifer Gilbert, a spokeswoman with the Department of Buildings, said in an email.

Brokers say that out-of-state buyers unfamiliar with the artist requirement can be deterred when learning about the rule. An out-of-state buyer recently opted to drop a deal for a loft in the neighborhood because of the requirement, said Jason Karadus, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman. It was the first deal Mr. Karadus had lost in 13 years because of the artist rule.

But getting the artist-certification rule lifted faces hurdles. It would require changing the zoning regulations for SoHo and NoHo, a process that could take years and would require City Council approval.

Another challenge for those seeking to revise the zoning rules: proving that SoHo’s demographics have changed and that artists have fled the pricey neighborhood. Without much reliable data on this, opponents of the artist requirement still need to figure out how to show that SoHo has been abandoned by artists and been replaced other professionals.

But Michael Slattery of Real Estate Board of New York, a trade group, says it’s clear that “there is not a large pool of certified artists out there.”

In the city as a whole, 3,410 artists have been certified since 1971, according to the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the city agency that grants artist certification. That number isn’t enough to support the real-estate market in SoHo and NoHo, Mr. Slattery said.

Not all neighborhood groups think it’s necessarily time to do away with the artist requirement. Protecting the housing rights of artists has been important for groups like the SoHo Alliance, which pushed for legalizing loft conversions for artists back in the 1970s.

SoHo Alliance Director Sean Sweeney worries that repealing the artist requirement could lead to the “mass evictions of renters” as landlords seek higher paying tenants. Still, Mr. Sweeney says his group hasn’t taken a position on the matter.

“When we see a groundswell of support to remove it, we follow the wishes and dictates of the community,” he said.

Nolita neighbors fear Shake Shack take-out insanity

Volume 79, Number 37 | February 17 – 23, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Nolita neighbors fear Shake Shack take-out insanity

By Patrick Hedlund

Ever-expanding burger empire Shake Shack has met with stiff resistance in its bid to open a new restaurant that would serve about 100 customers per hour on a calm stretch in Little Italy.

Celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer — who took his popular fast-food eateries citywide and then nationwide after opening the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park — has planned as the site of his Downtown debut a vacant parking lot at the corner of Prince and Mulberry Sts.

Residents have claimed that the restaurant’s layout, which provides for only 30 seasonal seats on the roof and just a few inside the space, will bring a crush of hungry patrons spilling out onto the otherwise subdued block.

“Residents of the historic Little Italy neighborhood of Nolita have reacted with a mixture of shock, dread and horror as news spread of the hamburger chain Shake Shack’s proposed location in the heart of the picturesque area,” read a press release from concerned neighbors, including the Little Italy Neighborhood Association and the Little Italy Restoration Association.

According to residents, the proposed outdoor seating area above the sidewalk-level eatery poses overcrowding and noise problems for the tenants living in an adjacent residential building, as well as for the 195-year-old St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and cemetery directly across the street. Neighbors fear that without sufficient seating, the restaurant will force customers to flood the streets to scarf down their orders — disrupting the area’s quality of life and impinging on the historic church’s presence.

“Local businesses are concerned that long lines waiting to get into the popular hamburger spot will block the already crowded sidewalks,” the press release noted. “Smells of food and cigarette smoke from the open-air emporium are other concerns of residents, as are trash, sanitation and traffic congestion generated by the production of over 1,500 carryout meals a day.”

The restaurant has also applied to serve beer and wine during its operating hours of 11 a.m. to midnight, a request that was pulled indefinitely following residents’ complaints at a Community Board 2 committee meeting last week. Another meeting, called by community members, on Monday saw almost 70 locals come out in opposition to the plan.

“Our team has received feedback from neighbors of the proposed Prince/Mulberry corner,” said Randy Garutti, C.E.O. of Shake Shack, in a statement to The Villager. “We are of course being thoughtful in taking that into consideration as we review our plans for this location.”

Alex Neratoff, an architect and Prince St. resident for more than 30 years, asked where the 100 patrons per hour would disperse with so few seating options: “The public library? The church? The food will be consumed in the street, where people will be sitting on parked cars, stoops, on the sidewalk next to the wall of St. Patrick’s,” he said.

Neratoff also wondered where the hundreds of patrons, with access to booze but so few seats, would choose to imbibe.

“It will overwhelm the already fragile context of north Little Italy,” he added. “Unless the city plans to put in public benches along the famous brick wall on Prince St., suspend public drinking laws and install some bathrooms, this will turn into a real mess.”

Adding another layer of confusion, the site’s M1-5B zoning designation does not allow for eating/drinking establishments on the ground floor of a multistory building. The restaurant’s open-air roof represents a “zoning dodge,” according to Neratoff, because it wasn’t presented as a complete second story despite the roof being considered as part the space’s total floor area.

The Soho Alliance neighborhood organization has also stepped in to represent concerned parties, and residents are currently pooling their money to challenge the project at the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals.

“Shake Shack is great in a park like Madison Square Park,” offered Jane Krupp, who has lived in the area 31 years, in the residents’ press release. “But where are these people going to go to eat their meals? Probably on my stoop.”

N.Y.U. Spiritual Center
The city’s Board of Standards and Appeals voted last week to approve New York University’s plan for a new spiritual center in Greenwich Village, granting the school several zoning variances to erect a six-story building on the south side of Washington Square Park.

The variances will allow N.Y.U. to construct the shorter, squatter building the school had sought for its Center for Academic and Spiritual Life at the southwest corner of Thompson St. and Washington Park South despite having the ability to build larger.

The new, 61,000-square-foot facility will house the university’s Catholic center along with the college’s three other chaplains — Jewish, Protestant and Muslim — together for the first time at the same location.

But not everyone is rejoicing at the news.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has criticized most of N.Y.U.’s expansion plans in the Village, said the B.S.A.’s decision to permit the variances will result in less light and air for the neighborhood.

“This is another example of the Board of Standards and Appeals ignoring the law and neighborhood zoning protections in favor of influential and well-connected interests,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P.’s executive director. “Granting N.Y.U. these zoning exemptions will have a negative impact upon the narrow, low-scale surrounding streets of the South Village, as well as blocking light to the neighboring historic Judson Memorial Church.”

Berman continued that the move “bodes ominously” for the neighborhood as the university seeks to increase its space by about 3 million square feet in Greenwich Village, the East Village, Noho and Union Square over the next 20 years under its master plan.

“In granting these exemptions to N.Y.U. in this case, the B.S.A. has lowered the threshold for granting variances from proving an indisputable need to a mere casual whim.”