Foes of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial plan to rezone posh SoHo are stepping up their opposition to the new development effort, accusing city officials of running a “PR smear campaign” against critics.
The blistering allegation from opponents such as the Manhattan neighborhood’s likely next councilman, Christopher Marte, comes as City Hall pushes ahead with its plans to bring up to 3,200 apartments to the neighborhood, including 800 set aside for lower-income New Yorkers.
“[T]hey’ve run a PR smear campaign to discredit the people they are meant to represent,” Marte said Monday of City Hall.
The Democratic nominee to represent District 1 on the City Council — an avowed opponent of the plans — was joined at a press conference by two former lawmakers from the area, ex-council members Alan Gerson and Kathryn Freed.
“City representatives have been condescending and rude, revealing their clear bias for luxury development, every step of the way,” Marte said.
The claims came as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer prepares to make her decision on whether to back the project, after the local community board voted against it following a set of raucous hearings.
Marte and other critics of de Blasio’s plans — including noted West Village anti-development activist Andrew Berman — have offered a slew of complaints about City Hall’s proposal.
First, they’ve argued that it would allow construction on parking lots owned by a company whose now-dead top executive donated to Hizzoner, massively enriching the firm.
Opponents have also claimed that the plans would cause mass demolitions, even though much of the neighborhood is protected under the city’s landmarks law; and that the new development would lead to the eviction of rent-stabilized tenants there and in nearby Chinatown, though strengthened rent laws should provide protections against their ouster.
Proponents retort that the city desperately needs the thousands of new apartments to battle its housing shortage — and where better to do it than a neighborhood sitting atop or near four major sets of subway lines.
Backers add that the hundreds of rent-stabilized units set aside for middle-income and working-class New Yorkers would bring diversity to one of the whitest and wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, where the annual median family income exceeds $106,000.
The deputy mayor in charge of city planning, Vicki Been, has claimed the proposal even amounts to “racial justice” because it would open up the neighborhood to more minority families.
Supporters of the city’s plans also claim that many people living in SoHo are doing so in violation of regulations that limit residency in the neighborhood to artists. Those residents have already signed letters alongside their leases acknowledging they could be booted if the rule is ever enforced.
But City Hall’s plan took a recent hit from an unexpected source when the neighborhood’s current representative, Councilwoman Margaret Chin, and Chinatown’s local lawmaker, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, pushed back on the administration’s proposal, too.
De Blasio’s plan, they argue, needs tighter regulations to discourage the construction of new offices in the district and ensure that the land goes to housing.
City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz said of detractors, “There’ll always be some people who say the timing isn’t quite right to bring affordable housing where there isn’t any.
“But we’re not rezoning Soho for them; we’re doing it because a recovery for all of us means finally making this iconic neighborhood accessible.”
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