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New York City artists fear future rezoning could push them out

Parts of the Noho and Soho districts of Manhattan were filled with run-down and vacant buildings before artists saw an opportunity to revive the area. Now, thousands of people work and live in the neighborhoods that the artists helped to bring back to life.

Now, they fear they could be pushed out.

The city is holding public workshops to discuss the possibility of rezoning the area. The Department of City Planning is considering changes that could correct some of the problems that have arisen from the current zoning – light manufacturing – not quite fitting what the area has turned into.

"Some of the issues that appear with the zoning include the fact that it does not reflect what we see on the ground," a consultant working with the city on planning process told Curbed NY. "The zoning's manufacturing, [but] we look around and what we really see is mixed use."

Artists, however, are worried that there could be a change to the zoning law, enacted nearly 50 years ago, that requires the old manufacturing sites to be occupied by city-certified artists. The 1971 zoning change made it legal for artists to turn the old industrial buildings into living-work quarters, which is what the city has termed it.

"Artists made these neighborhoods and now, because it's creative and buildings are renovated, you have all these commercial interests who want to come in," said one painter who has resided and worked in a Soho loft for 40 years with her husband, also an artist. "We need a balance, or zoning changes will destroy what the artists created and the goodwill of the city years ago to make a creative neighborhood."

The current zoning rules have been skirted through loopholes the city apparently is trying to close. For example, some retailers have moved in where they weren't supposed to be.

Some say that means the area needs to be rezoned from its current designation. Others, especially the artists, say the zoning laws don't need to be changed. They simply need to be enforced.

The potential rezoning process is in its early stages, and no decisions will be made for a while. The concerned artists should consult with an attorney experienced in zoning matters to advocate for them. Their way of life depends on the decision.

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