(the former) Trump SoHo, and Years of Non-Compliance
The building formerly known as the Trump Soho has made the national and international news. But GVSHP was protesting it over ten years ago when its construction was first announced on “The Apprentice.” We fought the City hard to prevent its construction, which we contended violated zoning laws. But then-Mayor Bloomberg and elected officials like then-Borough President Scott Stringer and then-City Council speaker Christine Quinn disagreed, and the project went forward, with just a promise of enforcement to prevent zoning violations, in the form of a “restrictive declaration” for the site, which was first filed on April 30, 2007. But that’s just the beginning of the story.
This all stems from the ‘condo-hotel’ usage which GVSHP and the SoHo Alliance long argued made the project illegal, whereby the City considered the units a “transient hotel” even though they were sold to individual buyers who could live there for much if not all of the year. We contended that because of this use, permits should never have been issued for the project to allow it to be built. Unfortunately, city and elected officials disagreed, and the project was allowed to be built.
The Trump SoHo’s supporters in city government offered instead a “legally binding restrictive declaration” as a condition of the development proceeding, which they claimed would ensure in perpetuity that it obeyed zoning restrictions. That restrictive declaration was first filed on April 30, 2007.
The deal required that the Trump SoHo undergo annual independent audits of its records to prove that the development was not being used for illegal residential or residential-hotel purposes. Trump SoHo was legally required to submit the independent audits to the City each year for their inspection and review to ensure the law was being followed.
In the intervening time, GVSHP had found numerous indications that city officials knew that the Trump SoHo was being used for purposes that violated the zoning.
GVSHP filed a Freedom of Information request, which city officials were legally obligated to follow, demanding any materials pertaining to the legally-required audits.
As a result, we discovered some very disturbing information. We found that in the six years since the Trump SoHo’s construction, none of the legally-required audits which were supposedly a condition of the project being built had ever been submitted. Incredibly we found that no penalties had ever been issued for the Trump SoHo’s failure to submit the audits, as provided for under the terms of the agreement under which the development was allowed to be built — see letters here.
In response to our Freedom of Information request, city officials were forced to ask for the past six years of the Trump SoHo’s legally-required audits. This failure to in any way enforce the terms under which these city officials allowed the highly-controversial and legally questionable Trump SoHo to be built — in spite of well-grounded contentions before, during, and after the building’s construction that it violated the zoning — was deeply disturbing.
The outcome? Trump Soho was compelled to pay $460,781.73 in fines to the public coffers, as shown in the checks above.
Just before Thanksgiving in 2017, the Trump Organization announced it was pulling out of the Trump SoHo Condo-Hotel. Reports indicate that poor economic performance at the development was behind the move. While many factors have affected the Trump SoHo’s poor performance, no doubt one is the enforcement of zoning regulations restricting the use of the “condo-hotel,” which GVSHP has fought relentlessly to ensure was done.
The Trump SoHo should never have been allowed to be built, and it continues to offer a case study in government oversight gone horribly awry. But GVSHP will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that no one profits from illegal uses here, and that those regulations which were put in place here to ensure compliance with the law continue to be enforced as rigorously as possible.
The Restrictive Covenant does allow for the city to demand more from the former Trump SoHo. According to the covenant, the city can mandate that the owner hire at their own expense an Independent Private Sector Inspector General a.k.a. “Compliance Monitor” and their duties can entail a Full Audit and Investigation, per the Agreement section below:
Will the administration find a reason to? GVSHP is keeping a close eye on it.
One reason could be that non-compliance seems to be continuing, even after the fines adding up to the six figures. In response to a recent freedom of information request from GVSHP, the Department of Buildings stated that it did not have the mandated occupancy report for the most recent year, although it was due on March 31. We will continue to monitor this site no matter what name it is called or who the latest investor is.