Are You a Certified Artist?

Last week, the Times reported that financial institutions are pressing buyers on a zoning matter that the City seems to continue to avoid:  Loft “dwellings” for artists in SoHo.  ZONE touched on the topic of zoning in SoHo in September.

In zoning-speak, these units are not residential uses at all.  They are Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists – or JLWQA, a use group 17 manufacturing use.  No misprint here.  These are permitted manufacturing uses in a M1-5 zoning district – they masquerade as residential uses.

For years, it has been one of the worst kept zoning “secrets” that such units are allowed – but must be occupied only by artists “certified” by the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs.  Indeed, certificates of occupancy for hundreds of units are so-labeled.  Are they actually occupied by Certified Artists?  Does the DOB have paperwork from Cultural Affairs for these units?  I play the trumpet, can I be Certified?  Check out Cultural Affairs’ web site.

That financial institutions are ever-more conservative when it comes to lending practices for NYC condos is generally a good thing, we suppose.  That they are asking about zoning is actually quite welcome.  But, the notion that banks would act as an “enforcement mechanism” of a rule that has received lax enforcement and which should be re-examined policy-wise, is unfortunate.

Should the SoHo rule limiting upper floor use to JLWQA be abandoned?  Or, should the City develop an enforcement vehicle with teeth?  Is SoHo still a community of working artists?  Should fancy ground floor boutiques (which, parenthetically, are generally not allowed in SoHo either, but somehow flourish) subsidize upper floor artists?  Zone invites your comments!