Air Rights Battle Pits Soho Residents Against Nonprofit

God's Love We Deliver, a nonprofit that delivers meals to sick and homebound people, will double the size of their Soho headquarters this summer. In order to fund their expansion without relocating, they sold $4 million of their air rights to a development company that is building a 14-story building next door. With the nonprofit doubling in size and the new condo widening because of newly-purchased air rights, Soho neighbors are protesting both the legality of the sale as well as the possible detrimental effects they say the buildings will have on the neighborhood.

The headquarter renovations will cost $26 million, as the building expands by three stories. God's Love raised a significant amount to fund its expansion—including a $5 million gift from fashion mogul Michael Kors, who will allow the building to be named after him. The $4 million sale of building's air rights to the Quinlan Development Group gave the nonprofit its final push and allowed them to construct a 3,360 square-foot roof garden. In the exchange, Quinlan demanded that its residents have unrestricted access to the nonprofit's open air spaces, including the terrace and roof garden.

"There is something so profoundly cynical that a public open space requirement be fulfilled by providing a nonprofit's roof garden to people who are going to be living in $3 million luxury condos," Micki McGee, a Sullivan Street resident told the NYT.

McGee and other members of the South Village Neighbors group raised $3,400 for a land-use attorney to protest the legality of the air rights sale. Without these rights, the Quinlan Development building would have to be much slimmer—though its height of 14 stories was always part of the property rights.

The city sold the location to God's Love in 1993 for $570,000—about half of its then-estimated market value. The deed carried restrictions, which effectively meant the charity couldn't sell the property at market value. The air rights, or the right to build additional square feet of undeveloped height or bulk, were not specifically restricted. It was a case of luck and happenstance the charity was able to find a developer next door to purchase the air rights. Soho residents have organized to protest the sale of the air rights as a loophole.

[Image via Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock]