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Artist-in-Residence Law Thwarts Broome Street Conversion

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Soho residents love their cast-iron buildings, but they might love the artist-in-residence zoning law even more. The once-ignored law—which allowed for the conversion of about 200 commercial lofts to residential use back in 1971, on the condition that each one contain a certified artist—has become a real thing again in the last five years. Now it looks like downtown community leaders are pushing to enforce it further during negotiations over new residential projects. That's what happened Wednesday night at a Community Board 2 meeting, when Goose Mountain LLC pursued a zoning waiver to transfer a five-story Broome Street building over to standard residential use. The building between Wooster and West Broadway is currently vacant from the second floor up, and was previously owned by a printmaker for nearly three decades. Goose Mountain bought the building in 2011 for $6.6 million, and as of 2012 held OKed plans to add a penthouse floor. The developer now wants to build out six units above a ground-floor retail space.

So, more than two years after the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved Squarcia Designs' design for the building, Goose Mountain is at the zoning stage. The firm has put some work into restoring and preserving the building's historic character in an effort to sway various entities to approve the zoning change. That sort of exchange is allowed under a zoning text that requires significant preservation work.

Some of what's already been done includes replacing metal window frames that were installed in the 1940s with ones that have the original wood aesthetic. "Going back, putting new windows, fixing the fire escape—the building looks like it did when it was built," said Fredrick Becker, an attorney representing Goose Mountain. Structural repairs were also made. But nothing is guaranteed. "We took our chances to restore it ahead of time," Becker said.

Anxious to fight the tides that have gentrified Soho, board members are set on using the artist-in-residence zoning law as a tool to keep the neighborhood affordable for artists. "We see it as a way of protecting affordable housing for artists in Soho," said board member Susan Wittenberg. It wasn't clear how affordable the apartments in 498 Broome would be, but board members inquired about earmarking a percentage of them. Becker said six units weren't enough to set aside any to be affordable.

Wittenberg said that the de Blasio era has created more hope that such gains can be made, even regarding artist quarters. "We haven't fought for this, before this year," she said, adding "it's a different era than it was two years ago."

Land-use committee chair Tobi Bergman said this process of renovating landmarks in exchange for a zoning waiver is a common occurrence "that has been used more and more for eliminating quarters for artists. And we've been expressing more concern about that." He added, "This one is difficult because it's a small building." The board didn't formally vote, but will write a letter expressing their reservations about the zoning change for the full board. In the meantime, Goose Mountain's odds don't look good.
· 498 Broome Penthouse Plan in Soho Gets OK from Landmarks [Curbed]
· All Loft Law coverage [Curbed]