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November 10, 2021

Stroock Client Alert

By: Ross F. Moskowitz, John B. Egnatios-Beene, Raymond "Rusty" Pomeroy II, Ashley E. Doukas, Eva C. Schneider

In approving the New York Blood Center Project today, the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and Committee on Land Use bucked member deference for the first time in 12 years.  Also today, the Subcommittee and Committee approved the Gowanus Rezoning. Yesterday, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a public hearing on the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning.  In this Client Alert, we provide status updates on all three of these land use actions, and outline the next hurdles they face.

New York Blood Center:

The Subcommittee and Land Use Committee held public hearings and voted to approve the controversial New York Blood Center Project, marking one of the final steps in the City’s public review process, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”).1  Moments before the Subcommittee held its hearing, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members Francisco Moya, Rafael Salamanca, and Keith Powers announced that a deal had been struck to reduce the height of the tower by over 100 feet, include additional funding for St. Catherine’s Park and the Julia Richman Education Complex, and measures to ensure that the only use allowable of this size will be for life science research. 

The New York Blood Center plans to replace its existing facility on East 67th Street with a 233-foot tower. Approximately one-third of the tower will go to the New York Blood Center, and the remainder would be leased to life science companies. 

This project faced strong opposition, including from local Council Member Ben Kallos, who had been vocal in his opposition to the project; however, in a bold move, the Subcommittee and Land Use Committee, parted with the policy of councilmember deference—a practice where members defer to the opinion of the local councilmember.

The full City Council will need to vote to approve the rezoning before it is enacted.
 
Gowanus Rezoning:

Today, the Subcommittee and Land Use Committee held public hearings and voted to approve, with modifications, the Gowanus Rezoning.  The hearing was held within hours of a deal being struck between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to make an estimated $200 million in improvements to 1,662 apartments in the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”) developments, Wycoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses.  Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin had stated they would have voted down the Gowanus Rezoning if this substantial public housing commitment by the Mayor’s Office had not been made.  In addition, the Council members were able to secure an additional $174 million from the City to upgrade the local sewer infrastructure to mitigate against flooding, $14.7 million for renovations to the Pacific Branch Library, $10.9 million for renovations to Old Stone House, as well as commitments to parks, schools and workforce development.

The rezoning itself spans an 82-block area, and will be the largest neighborhood rezoning undertaken by the de Blasio Administration. The rezoning will enable the construction of approximately 8,500 new housing units, of which approximately 3,000 will be affordable under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (“MIH”) program. The rezoning will also establish a new mixed-use district, enabling mid- to high-density mixed use, residential, commercial and light-manufacturing districts along the Gowanus Canal and major corridors, and to contextual mid-density residential and light-manufacturing districts along side streets, and create the Gowanus Waterfront Access Plan. 

The Subcommittee, in approving the rezoning, modified the rezoning in a number of important ways. They: (i) eliminated MIH Option 2 entirely, only permitting MIH Option 1 and the Deep Affordability Option, (ii) refined the definition of “Gowanus Mix” uses, and expanded and strengthened the Gowanus Mix incentives, (iii) established lower height limits south of Thomas Greene Park to reduce shadows, and (iv) adjusted the permitted uses in Manufacturing and MX districts.

In addition, the Subcommittee and Land Use Committee approved the establishment of an Urban Development Action Area and approved a project, the Gowanus Green Development, as an Urban Development Action Area.2 The Gowanus Green Development is located on City-owned property and would result in the construction of approximately 950 affordable housing units in six new construction mixed-use residential buildings that range in height from five to 28 stories. The Gowanus Green Development would also include community facility, commercial and retail spaces, and a site for a potential future school.

The full City Council will need to vote to approve the rezoning before it is enacted.

SoHo/NoHo Rezoning:

Yesterday, the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises held a public hearing on the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning.  Just last month, the City Planning Commission (“CPC”) approved the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning (To read about the CPC approval, Click Here; and to learn more about the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning, Click Here). In so doing, they made a couple of important modifications, the most important among them was the reduction of the commercial floor area ratio (“FAR”) from 10.0 to 8.0 in the Opportunity Area in the southeast end of the rezoning and from 10.0 to 7.0 in the Opportunity Area in the northeast tip of the rezoning.

Both proponents and opponents of the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning testified.  Opponents cited fears that the rezoning would alter the historic character of the SoHo/NoHo neighborhood and result in the destruction of historic and landmarked buildings. Proponents of the rezoning testified that these fears are overstated due to the fact that over 80% of the SoHo/NoHo neighborhood exists within City-designated historic districts, thereby requiring the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s review and approval of new developments, alterations and the like to ensure conformity with the historic character in all respects. Opponents, and many proponents, seemed to agree that the rezoning did not do enough to encourage residential development and affordable housing development specifically.  Both sides called for further reductions to the commercial FAR in the Opportunity Areas of the rezoning (with proposals ranging from 2.0 FAR to 5.0 FAR), to further incentivize residential development.  Proponents also testified that affordable housing is a citywide problem, and all neighborhoods, including SoHo/NoHo, need to do their part to provide affordable housing for all New Yorkers.

The Subcommittee will need to vote to approve this rezoning before it can head to a full City Council vote.

The Stroock Land Use and Environmental Team will be diligently following these rezonings and updating clients on timing, modifications, the political climate, and the likelihood of success.

[1] ULURP is a statutory five- to seven-month process that requires review and advisory recommendations by the Community Board and Borough President, review and vote by the City Planning Commission, and review and vote by the City Council. 

[2] While not subject to ULURP, this project, sponsored by the Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD"), will need to be approved by the full City Council and Mayor.