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July 11, 2010

ZONE THIS!




On June 21 Governor Patterson signed the “New Loft Law” into law, and it is generally considered a victory and a testament to the tireless work of Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who sponsored the bill in what is now its third iteration in nearly 30 years. I commend the passage of this law most highly, and for reasons that go beyond the common sense fairness it extends to artists who live and work in industrial buildings.





Following my remarks here is a summary from Smack Mellon gallery of the loft law.

In a nutshell, the “loft law” is the expression of a cultural and political development in New York City that spans three decades. The law was first passed in 1982 to protect a limited number of artists in downtown Manhattan who had made a convincing case for the cultural and economic value to the community of artists who live and work in lofts.

The law extends residential status to formerly "work-only" commercial space, giving loft dwellers the same rights, such as rent control, that other residential tenants in the city take for granted. In 1987 the law was expanded, and this year the doctrine of loft life has been spread across the whole of the city and, implicitly I suppose, across all of New York State.

Of course, there are many hooks and snags involved for both tenants and landlords in actually getting a loft up-coded and qualified under the law. Anyone who is interested in the details should definitely attend the Q&A with Lopez and City Council Member Stephen Levin on Thursday, July 15, at 7:30 PM, at Our Lady of Pompeii Auditorium at 225 Siegel Street, Brooklyn, NY.

There was opposition to this law from Mayor Bloomberg, from Congress members Nydia Velasquez and Jerrold Nadler, and from local city council members who represent industrial parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick that are now on the artistic frontier of Brooklyn.

In his eleventh-hour letter to Governor Patterson objecting to the law, Bloomberg argued that the bill undermines the city’s long-standing commitment to industrial zones that would promote manufacturing, create jobs, and that would be protected from residential development. Wrote Bloomberg, “The bill would render those zones meaningless.”

The problem with this argument is that those zones are already meaningless. Vast amounts of industrial real estate In Brooklyn lie vacant or under-used. Industries of the scale and type that these buildings were built to accommodate are not likely to be moving in any time soon, if ever again. The renovations, the taxes, the predatory city fines, and the sheer cost of doing business in New York City on a large manufacturing scale are prohibitive.

Truth be told, the “industrial zone” has become a feel-good word and a piece of political nostalgia that has more to do with appeasing sore feelings about gentrification, than it has to do with any realistic outlook on the economic future of the city.

What this overarching iteration of the doctrine of loft life really achieves, is an acknowledgment that artists, artisans, designers, media people, and the myriad businesses, practices, and entertainments they spawn, are the new lifeblood of the New York City economy. The loft law is a small and limited nudge in the direction of a “creative valley” across the breadth of Brooklyn, but it is a nudge in the right direction.

The next step should be a reevaluation by city government of the status of industrially zoned areas, and also of the larger industrial territories known as IBZs (Industrial Business Zones). Zoning and financial incentives in these areas should be redesigned to allow artists and small entrepreneurs to live and work on a single property, and to operate bars, caf├ęs, gyms, convenience stores, retail outlets, and galleries and showrooms nearby.

Would such a new zoning scheme “hip up” these areas and beschmutz to some extent the sublime landscape of industrial Brooklyn? You bet. Would it inevitably lead to condo developments in industrial Brooklyn? Not at all. The borough is already glutted with unsold condo units, and an intelligent “mixed-use artisan” zoning scheme and financial incentive plan for landlords could easily be tailored for low-rise, live-work, and retail use only.

But this would amount to an unprecedented new kind of “zone” for the city, to say nothing of an entirely new vision for city planning — a vision that steps outside the 20th century paradigm of high-rise living, large-scale factory and office working, and the alienation of life from work.

Presently there are 16 Industrial Business Zones (IBZs) throughout New York City — large neighborhoods slated only for industry. One of these IBZs is in the backyard of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, curving down along Newtown Creek and extending south into parts of Bushwick. For decades this area has been known as the “East Williamsburg Industrial Valley.” This valley should be converted to a mixed-use artisan zone, a special “pilot zone” among the IBZs that would accommodate live-work situations for artists and small entrepreneurs.

It is time for the city openly to embrace and leverage the potential of the extraordinary creative settlement of North Brooklyn that is now a quarter-century in the making. This can be done by creating an opportunity for artists and entrepreneurs to get up and running in raw space right away, without having to dodge and dive and shell out for a bed and a shower in some other neighborhood. Believe me, they’re going to be working there all night anyway, and that’s the kind of work New York City needs now.

Photo: The Zone, an artists squat on South 4th Street in the mid-80s

Here is the email from Smack Mellon:

----- Original Message -----

From: Smack Mellon [info@smackmellon.org]

Sent: 07/11/2010 03:10 PM AST

To: eschicker@earthlink.net

Subject: Expanded Loft Law signed into law by Governor Paterson!!

Smack Mellon

EXPANDED LOFT LAW SIGNED INTO LAW!

There are important steps you need to take to ensure the new law covers your loft!

Time is limited!

Loft Residents:

The East Williamsburg-Bushwick Loft Tenant Association and RBSCC invite you to join:

Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez

Councilman Stephen Levin

Chuck Delany, Tenants' Representative from

The New York City Loft Board

David E. Frazer Esq., Loft Tenant Rights Attorney

TO DISCUSS THE NEW LOFT LAWS & HOW TO ACCESS THE MANY NEW BENEFITS, PRIVILEGES AND RIGHTS NOW AVAILABLE TO YOU. ALL QUESTIONS ANSWERED!

Where: Our Lady of Pompeii Auditorium
225 Siegel Street

When: Thursday July 15, 7:30 P.M.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Debra Feinberg at (718) 963-7029.

Just before midnight on Monday June 21, 2010 Governor Paterson signed the new expanded Loft Law, the law on which Assemblyman Vito Lopez has worked for nearly two decades, into law. After working through the night on negotiations to ensure the law's passage, Assemblyman Lopez has achieved a great victory for loft and live-work residents throughout New York City. Just as Assemblyman Lopez fights each year to pass Rent Regulation laws, to repeal luxury decontrol and to provide a better quality of life for tenants throughout the State, this law is the Assemblyman's latest accomplishment in extending rent protections, promoting affordable housing and effectuating positive change.

The loft laws were previously restricted to certain Manhattan loft tenants. With this landmark legislation, the bill serves to place stringent rent protections on "loft" units, which were used as residences for any 12-month period between 2008 and 2009. In these cases, either Tenants or owners must register the eligible units with the Loft Board within six months and Landlords must bring those units into compliance with mandated standards. As a result, the Loft Law not only provides assurances such as protection from eviction and safety measures to loft tenants, but also provides some of the strongest rent protections available in the State of New York.

Assemblyman Lopez said, "As an advocate for this essential legislation for nearly 20 years, I am proud that this expanded Loft Law has finally been signed into law. As loft tenants have greatly enriched our community by bringing arts and new industry to communities, to pass legislation that provides these tenants both rent regulation and the ability to continue to work freely in their residences is a significant victory in all respects."

This victory was not easy. Assemblyman Lopez worked tirelessly with New York City representatives; Speaker Silver in the Assembly and the State Senate to make sure this bill was not vetoed despite mounting opposition from other local political representatives. This bill achieves a wonderful balance between providing existing loft tenants with essential benefits and promoting the culture and industry these tenants bring to communities while allowing for other flourishing industry and business to coexist in these same communities.

Deborah Masters, a long-time loft tenant at 475 Kent Avenue said of the Bill, "I have waited more than 20 years for this bill. After fighting year after year for these protections, loft tenants finally have the peace of mind that we deserve. At the eleventh hour, I thought the Loft Bill would be vetoed. I am so thankful to Assemblyman Vito Lopez for sticking with us for all these years and for fighting so hard to see this bill finally passed."

Bill Hall, Lower Manhattan Loft Tenant Executive Committee member said of Assemblyman Lopez "It is exactly his sort of tireless, hands-on, total personal involvement that has enabled Assemblyman Lopez to prevail in securing what many people thought was the impossible. Making the Loft Law permanent is also a very significant accomplishment and we thank you."

This email was sent from Smack Mellon, info@smackmellon.org.

Smack Mellon | 92 Plymouth Street | Brooklyn | NY | 11201