Is This Land Your Land, Or Is It My Land?

Donald Trump is known for his high-quality, innovative buildings — but
some New York City preservationists are claiming he isn’t known for his
communication skills.

They’re upset that Trump didn’t approach neighborhood residents about
his planned 46-story Trump SoHo, planned for — you guessed it — SoHo. The building was announced last year on "The Apprentice."

other developer comes to us and says, ‘We’re going to build a building.
What do you think of it?’"  Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo
Alliance, a group that seeks to maintain the character of the artsy
neighborhood, told the Associated Press. "Trump didn’t come to the community. People in California
heard about it before people in SoHo did."

And although it may sound a little unrealistic to imagine Donald Trump
going door-to-door in SoHo to hug residents and tell them all about his
exciting plans to build in their neighborhood, they do sort of have a

SoHo is one of New York’s most unique neighborhoods — it has worked to maintain a sense of personality in the face of
decades of rapid urban growth.

Its residents have been known to protest out-of-place neighborhood additions. Take, for example, the 17-story Far West Village condo complex, created by artist Julian Schnabel. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation tried to prevent its construction because of its height in relation to other area structures, according to the Real Deal.

Imagine their reaction when its construction tarp came off in June, revealing that the building was hot pink — I mean, really hot pink.

And huge.

Size Matters

Likewise, many of the buildings in SoHo are just 10 to 15 stories — a far
cry from the new Trump structure. He’s not breaking any laws — AP
reports the construction site, a former parking lot, is zoned to accommodate the building’s height.

But still — it is a developer’s responsibility to consider a project’s
impact on the surrounding neighborhood? Or is that just a sign of
progress residents must learn to live with?

There is an interesting caveat to the situation.

One, although the
zoning allows for a 46-story building, it doesn’t permit a residential
one — which is being sidestepped by packaging the building as a hotel
and not a condo, AP reports.

It will be a condohotel — a variety Trump is also currently
constructing in Chicago. I interviewed his son, Donald Trump Jr., about that
project a few years ago.

The condohotel first entered the Trump world in 1997, when Donald Sr. was looking for uses for a very specific, commercially zoned portion of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Donald Jr. told me it was his Dad’s idea.

Whether or not you agree with the SoHo Alliance, you have to admit — it is a pretty clever idea. They were able to build as desired within the current zoning laws and give residents the added bonus of possibly making money off their condos when they were not in use. Plus residents get the benefits a hotel can offer — housekeeping, a function center, etc.

But calling the Trump SoHo a hotel really has the SoHo Alliance steamed.

No owner can occupy a Trump SoHo unit for more than 29 consecutive days in a 36-day period or for more than 120 days a year; it would require a lot of shuffling around to get out of that. If it’s enforced — and the Alliance thinks it won’t be, calling the rules "a mechanism that’s simply not going to be followed."

The Hammers Keep Hammerin’

Their attorney asked the city Department of Buildings to revoke the Trump Soho’s permit in a July; the request was denied on Aug. 14.

The Alliance isn’t done, though — they plan to appeal and may file a lawsuit.

And yet, construction is underway. So who’s right? And who’s wrong?

Homeowners — especially urban ones — pay a lot to live where they live. As such, they have a valid concern in how the neighborhood develops. For one, they own stake in it, via their property, and therefore it could be concluded that they have a say in its future.

Also, more importantly, neighborhood development affects their investment — and as homeownership is the largest investment many Americans will make in their lifetime, home prices rising or falling as a result of positive or negative changes in the area will have a direct bearing on their financial future.

The SoHo Alliance is afraid if this big building gets built, it will be a shining Bat symbol in the sky, calling to other developers to add super-structures to SoHo.

"If he gets away with it," Sweeney told AP, "there’ll be a tsunami of residential buildings."

And yet, Trump didn’t break any rules. They’re arguing he may have bent some (in Chicago’s upcoming Trump condohotel, I was told, there would be no
limit to the amount of owner use — the SoHo condohotel set rules to limit permanent residency, which likely was done partially to define the building as nonresidential), but he did it within the framework of the law.

That, however, won’t change the building’s height. And does it even matter that the building going up may be one with condos — who is to say a developer wouldn’t have constructed an office building of the same height on the space if Trump hadn’t procured the spot? If the land is there — empty and available — it’s fair game, isn’t it?

Or is it?