November 9, 2021
The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods. HDC works communities throughout the five boroughs to encourage the preservation and enhancement of their neighborhood’s historic character.
The proposed SoHo/NoHo rezoning proposal has the potential to be profoundly damaging to the designated landmark properties of the historic districts it encompasses and to the practice of historic preservation throughout New York City.
Landmark designation does not concern itself with use; landmarking does not stop the development of housing nor does it mandate the price of what that housing might cost. Some of the most densely populated areas in New York City are landmark districts and have been for decades. To imply that landmarking prevents the development of new housing and development is simply not correct – look at Dumbo, Gansevoort, Tribeca and even SoHo and NoHo. The population in all these formerly commercial neighborhood has increased after they were landmarked!
Protecting historic buildings does rely upon having the underlying zoning match up with the existing buildings. If the City increases the underlying zoning of these buildings – encouraging much more bulk than they currently have – it puts an enormous strain on the Landmarks Commission to keep the landmark building intact. If City Planning says a 15 story building can be built where a 7 story building currently stands, how can the Landmarks Commission say “no”? This baked-in conflict strains the system and is unfair to both property owners and the agencies.
This is not an unknown fact or new situation. Over the past 55 years, many historic districts have been rezoned after landmarking, in order to bring the underlying zoning into better compliance with the LPC’s regulatory standards. It is sound urban planning to do so.
If adopted, the SoHo NoHo Rezoning Plan will be the first time that HDC is aware of where the underlying zoning of a historic district is deliberately adjusted to be less aligned with the existing built environment. This disjunction preplans a conflict between city regulations and undermines the preservation purpose explicitly put forward by landmark designation. It sets a terrible and damaging precedent.