Mayor Eric Adams vetoed a controversial provision Friday in the newly-enacted rezoning of SoHo and NoHo that would have sharply hiked fines on non-artists buying lofts that are reserved for artist residency and workspace.
The veto of the increased fines on the non-artist residents of the Joint Live/Work Quarters for Artists (JLWQA) zone does not affect the enactment of the rest of the zoning bill, which was passed by the City Council last month.
“We’ve been hearing concerns about that specific legislation, and are going to make sure that we can productively work together to improve it over the coming months,” Adams said in a statement Friday announcing his intent to issue the veto, his first as mayor.
Though rarely enforced, the city policy to require non-artist residents to pay fees when buying a JLWQA unit came out of a push to help artists stay in the increasingly gentrified SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods.
The city created the JLWQA zone in the early 1970s to allow artists who were city-certified to remain in their live/work lofts created in abandoned buildings that were originally zoned for manufacturing, according to the Village Sun. The special zoning is now the most common type of residential use in SoHo and NoHo neighborhoods across more than 1,600 housing units, according to the Village Sun.
To qualify to live in the JLWQA, artists have to apply for certification, but opponents have argued the certification is not standardized and haphazardly enforced, including collection of the current $2,500 fee for non-artists to live in the zone.
Last month, the City Council passed the broader SoHo and NoHo rezoning plan which aims to create up to 3,500 new apartment units, with as many as 900 of those subsidized for low- and middle-income residents through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirement. While former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration created the zoning proposal, the bill went to Adams for signing after he took office January 1st.
Both supporters and opponents of the rezoning plan said the proposed increase in fines for non-artist residents who want to buy homes was outrageous. In the provision crafted by former Councilmember Margaret Chin, new owners of JLWQA units would need to register their property with the city – residents who were not city-certified artists would be fined $15,000 for a first offense, followed by $25,000 fines “for a subsequent failure to pay the conversion fee. Enforcement largely depends on residents reporting their non-artist neighbors,” City Limits reported.
Newly-elected Councilmember Christopher Marte, who replaced Chin as the elected official for SoHo, said the provision would only hurt residents.
“I think it was something everyone could agree upon that no matter where you stood on the rezoning, whether you're for or against it, that this legislation just did harm and did not help anyone,” Marte said in a phone interview Saturday. “It probably only could have helped developers that wanted to evict these artists to either demolish their buildings, or to turn over their apartments.”
The Coalition for Fairness in SoHo & NoHo, Inc., a community group that has opposed the broader rezoning, applauded the mayor’s veto, saying in a statement “the draconian penalties…would have hurt hundreds of families in our community — including the most vulnerable…”
Michele McCrann, a former SoHo resident whose husband Charles McCrann died in the September 11th attacks, said her husband was a city-certified filmmaker when they bought their Crosby Street loft in 1977, but the designation was not extended to her.
“This legislation states that although my husband of twenty-three years who perished on 9/11 had been a certified artist, due to this rushed legislation upon his death his certification will not be upheld for me, his beloved widow,” McCrann said in written testimony provided by The Coalition for Fairness in SoHo & NoHo, Inc. “They’re trying to drive us out in order to build new glass towers and to eliminate our historical districts.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said working out the details of the SoHo and NoHo rezoning will be a priority and pledged the council's cooperation. "We look forward to working with Mayor Adams' administration to respond to those concerns over the coming months," she said in a statement.
Mayor Adams said he will “take a little more time” to determine a better path forward to protect the SoHo and NoHo community.
“We are still committed to increasing options for existing JLWQA owners by providing a legal pathway to residential use for non-artists in the neighborhood should they elect to legalize or sell, and to make sure windfall profits of those sales get invested back into the artistic legacy for SoHo and NoHo in perpetuity via the SoHo/NoHo Arts Fund,” Adams said.