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!