Talk about deja vu.
Community groups have filed a lawsuit to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial rezoning of SoHo and NoHo, in an effort similar to the ongoing legal action seeking to halt the rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn.
The SoHo Alliance and the Broadway Residents Coalition hit the city with a lawsuit on Friday to stop the start of the typically seven-month approval process for the rezoning, arguing that the meeting must be held in person and not over Zoom, The Real Deal first reported.
“We were never going to modernize 50-year-old zoning laws, or build affordable housing in one of the least affordable and least diverse neighborhoods in America, without a good hard fight. So we’re not surprised,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for City Hall, said in a statement. “But we are prepared — and we’re confident that remote hearings are inclusive and fair, and we will deliver a rezoning plan that moves SoHo and NoHo forward.”
The community groups’ lawyer, Jason Zakai, did not respond to a request for comment.
The move comes after the Department of City Planning was set to certify the rezoning application on Monday, which would kick off the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). It echoes the lawsuit filed by Voice of Gowanus to curb the Gowanus rezoning, one of de Blasio’s most ambitious rezoning plans, over the use of Zoom meetings.
The city asked a judge to throw out the Gowanus suit, arguing that a recent executive order allowing land use meetings to be held remotely nullifies the provisions cited by Voice of Gowanus’ suit. Last week, a judge lifted the temporary restraining order blocking the rezoning and the city officially kicked off the ULURP process.
City law requires the local community board to conduct public hearings on rezoning procedures in a “convenient place of public assembly,” but the city switched to Zoom as the coronavirus pandemic spread. Both the SoHo and Gowanus suits argued that virtual meetings were “no substitute” for in-person hearings.
In light of de Blasio’s recent comments that the city would fully reopen by July 1, the SoHo suit said the city has “not explained to the public their urgency of trying to rush the approval of a large-scale and impactful public rezoning project at this time, and why [the city] cannot wait until the pandemic is over.”
“[The city’s] refusal to allow in-person public hearings is particularly illogical given that many of the restrictions on in-person public gatherings that had been imposed at the beginning of the pandemic have now been lifted,” the suit said.
Despite vocal opposition from longtime residents of SoHo and NoHo, two of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, de Blasio’s administration wants to update the 1960s industrial zoning there to allow new retail and residential development.
The plans would allow up to 3,200 apartments to be built, a quarter of which would be affordable. However, any delay in the rezoning proceedings could kill the proposal as it could run past when de Blasio’s term ends at the end of this year.
Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from City Hall.