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September 26th, 2006

State of SoHo issues and reform?

by D. Clark MacPherson

Trump SoHoThe pace of development in SoHo and Hudson Square has continued unabated. Several condominium projects are underway and will be completed in 2007. On West Broadway between Canal and Grand there will be twin buildings through West Broadway to Wooster Street with a parking garage facing the SoHo Grand at 310 West Broadway. At the razed site of the former Tunnel Garage which was a landmark in SoHo, a nine story condo is about to be built. At the site of the Moondance Diner, another nine story condominium is slated to begin construction in the near future. And, the 13 story condominium project at 350 West Broadway which has been sold to Ian Schrager will now be a hotel. The 17 story hotel on Watts Street between Avenue of the Americas and Varick Street is already under construction. The 40 Mercer condominium project at Grand and Mercer is now nearly completed should be open by year end.

Then, of course, there is the Trump SoHo project. The proposed 45 story Hotel/Condo is a development in the planning stages. While this “Trojan Horse Hotel” as it is called by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVHSP) has generated a lot of antagonism in the community, little can be done to stop a “transient hotel.” The Community Board has voted it down as a “Hotel/Condo” but it cannot be stopped IF it is constructed as a hotel. The sheer size of such a hotel would dwarf downtown. That alone is a zoning issue that needs our attention. This is a situation where residents need to rally support behind Executive Director Andrew Berman’s initiatives. Contact GVSHP at (212) 475-9585 or e-mail GVSHP@GVSHP.ORG. Contact Amanda Burden at City Planning (fax (212)720-3219, City Council member Tony Avella (fax (718)747-3105 and City Council Land Use Chair Melinda Katz (fax (718)544-4452) to let your opinions be known.

The “Summit” recently held at the Puffin Foundation on Broome Street, has clearly gotten the attention of the politicians, the S.L.A., and the community. The hard work of Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance and Rob Hollander and others from LESA as well as many other activists and organizations has paid off. The genie is clearly out of the bottle and the Nightlife association is now on notice that it is no longer “business as usual.” Liquor license applications will now be more carefully scrutinized by the S.L.A., the Community and the elected officials downtown. Speaker Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg have taken notice and will be holding hearings focusing on safety–but, as of yet have not invited the community organizations to the hearings or acknowledged the hard work that has been done. The Nightlife people appear to be doing the inviting to the hearings. We hope that changes.

Two of the most contentious locations in SoHo have closed or lost legal battles. Besito, a bar/restaurant located at 357 West Broadway which became the focal point of much of the anti-bar proliferation sentiment on Community Board #2, has shut down. And, Lola, another bar/cabaret, was defeated at the Community Board and in the courts.

The billboard problem has gotten some support from Scott Stringer, the new Borough President. He is one of very few politicians who has made this an issue. Some of the most egregious locations in SoHo have remained untouched–366 West Broadway/505 Broome Street, 15 Watts Street (the Brewery), 40 Watts Street, 585 Broome Street and 312 West Broadway–are some of the most offensive sites with huge billboards plastered over the buildings.

For years, the SoHo Journal has urged that the Buildings Department be sanctioned for ignoring the problem of illegal signs, unsafe building conditions and violations of the building codes. Renegade building owners collect huge fees at the expense of the community. As a result, a new sign enforcement directive has finally been issued. Rule 49 has been adopted. Effective August 25th, all outdoor advertising companies have 60 days to register their inventory of signs with the Department of Buildings if they are within 900 feet or “in view of” an arterial highway or within 200 feet of a public park–presumably so that they can be reviewed for legality. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the sign companies don’t have to register unless the park is at least a half acre in size. Then there is the question of what constitutes an arterial highway. Most of us realize that there are virtually no parks in SoHo and that most streets like Watts, Broome and Canal are, in fact, arterial highways supplying the Holland Tunnel. The sign companies will use this argument to do nothing in SoHo. The Department of Buildings has created a phony set of rules which does nothing and has sold us out again to the Outdoor Sign industry.

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