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Freedom of Information Requests Reveals that City Officials Repeatedly Let Trump SoHo Violate the Law

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) has been conducting investigations into the legality of the Trump SoHo “Condo-Hotel” at 246 Spring Street, a development which, from the very beginning, we opposed, contending it would violate zoning regulations. GVSHP has discovered that city officials have repeatedly violated their commitments regarding the Trump SoHo, allowing the controversial development to avoid legal requirements that were supposedly the condition for its construction.

Starting in 2006 when Donald Trump first announced plans for the project on “The Apprentice,” GVSHP and other community groups opposed permits for the towering Trump SoHo because the “condo-hotel” violated local zoning prohibitions barring residential and residential-hotel development. Had city officials enforced the existing zoning as we argued, the project could not have been built as planned.

Instead, the City, City Council Speaker Quinn, and Borough President Stringer insisted over our objections that the planned development did not violate the zoning, and its construction must be allowed. They 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. 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 every case.

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; the development was categorized as a “residence” on multiple city documents and reports. We brought this to the attention of the City, Council Speaker Quinn, and Borough President Stringer, and repeatedly asked for the inspections required by the “legally binding restrictive declaration” to substantiate whether or not the law was being broken. We received no response from the City, the Speaker, or the Borough President.

In response, GVSHP filed a Freedom of Information request, which city officials were legally obligated to follow, demanding that the City, the Speaker, and the Borough President release any materials pertaining to the legally-required audits.

What we discovered was quite disturbing. In the six years since the Trump SoHo’s construction, we found that none of the legally-required audits which were supposedly a condition of the project being built had ever been submitted. Incredibly, we additionally found that neither the City, the Speaker, nor the Borough President had ever asked for any of the legally-required audits, even though their review by city officials was supposed to be the means by which the project’s conformance with the law would be ensured. Finally, and perhaps not surprisingly, 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.

In response to our Freedom of Information request, city officials have now been forced to ask for the past six years of the Trump SoHo’s legally-required audits. However, so long after the fact, it is inconceivable that such a request will result in any sort of meaningful investigation into whether or not the development has been violating the law. 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 — is deeply disturbing. GVSHP is now investigating all options for next steps in light of this egregious breach of commitments to the public.

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