Build more affordable housing but keep our park!

Jeannine Kiely, center, at a rally in March 2017 near City Hall urging Mayor de Blasio to “wake up!” and realize the importance of saving the garden. They were accompanied by a “Reveille”-playing trumpeter. At right are garden leader Joseph Reiver (with hat) and politico Christopher Marte. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY JEANNINE KIELY | Why would the city destroy forever Elizabeth St. Garden — a thriving green oasis, outdoor education center and cherished, heavily used garden in a park-starved neighborhood — when there is a better alternative? Nearby there is an unused and litter-strewn city-owned lot that can provide five times more housing for seniors and twice the open space, an alternative site that has full support from Community Board 2. Let seniors keep the only place they have where they can sit in the sun and interact with their neighbors.

The city’s development plan is not a compromise; it will destroy the garden, reducing its size by 70 percent. The building will destroy the garden’s entire Elizabeth St. side — bulldozing the lawns, pear trees and programming space — and eliminate sunlight in the remaining narrow sitting area.

The proposed “compromise” barely provides the open space required by zoning — and some of what is called open space is just a 2,000-square-foot covered public entranceway to the building. Adding insult to injury, part of the open space will be lost, not for use as senior housing, but to accommodate a one-story office for Habitat for Humanity, something that could go anywhere.

The developers’ misleading renderings create the appearance of a larger open space. The developers’ schematics manipulate the depth of field. For example, in their visuals, the indoor hallway looks like an enormous archway while other images reveal a much smaller scale. Drawings also show green space in the adjacent private courtyard at 21 Spring St., which is heavily shadowed and walled off from the proposed development. Once hard surfaces and A.D.A.-accessible circulation paths are added, only a few patches of lawn are possible. Add to this the shade from the project — a seven-story building — plus foot traffic, and the pretty drawings of green space are simply unrealistic.

A design rendering showing the current Elizabeth St. Garden, midblock between Spring and Prince Sts. and running between Elizabeth and Mott Sts. The building at left is the Little Italy Restoration Apartments (LIRA), affordable housing that is set to expire.

The garden is already a haven and already green. Don’t be deceived by branding. This development is led by the for-profit Pennrose Properties and will be subsidized by market-rate retail and 11,200 square feet (yes, 11,200 square feet!) of private office space for Habitat for Humanity.

But there is an alternative to destroying the garden… . The nearby, city-owned site at 388 Hudson St. is much more viable for affordable housing. This 25,000-square-foot vacant gravel-filled lot could be developed as both housing and public open space, with housing built on its Clarkson St. side to comply with the city Department of Environmental Protection’s need for a permanent easement on the W. Houston St. side.

Local seniors benefit with community preference. The city typically allots community preference for affordable housing to local residents as defined by community board, not City Council district. Therefore, if five times as much housing is built at the alternative site, five times as many seniors who live in Community Board 2 will be able to age in place.

A design rendering showing how much of the existing garden would be covered by the planned Haven Green affordable housing project — and how shadows would significantly impact the small remnant of green public open space.

Can’t be both. The lot at 388 Hudson St. was promised by the city as a park 20 years ago. But, in 2015, C.B. 2 held a public hearing and passed a resolution stating that it would be willing to compromise to get MORE housing, plus MORE park space, by allowing housing to be built on the Hudson St. lot — but “only if” the Elizabeth St. Garden site would be preserved in its entirety as a public park.

Precedents! In fact, not long ago, the city announced just such a similar win-win swap in Chelsea. Like Elizabeth St. Garden, local Chelsea residents led a grassroots initiative to create a new park on W. 20th St. Instead of building housing at that location, the city instead built 234 affordable units on a larger city-owned site 2 miles north, still within the same community board boundary for affordable housing preference, but more than twice the distance between Elizabeth St. Garden and Hudson St.

The bottom line, obviously, is the city is not building housing on every available city-owned site in Downtown Manhattan. Case in point, the recently approved Tech Hub in Union Square.

Elizabeth St. Garden activists Emily Hellstrom, left, and Jeannine Kiely proudly displayed a banner at hearing of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2015. At the hearing, garden advocates testified against the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s application for L.M.D.C. funding for a planned affordable housing project slated for the garden. Photo by The Villager

Our lawsuit is being prepared to launch: Destroying 70 percent of the garden for offices, retail and some housing is not a compromise.

Destroying the beautiful Elizabeth St. Garden that has more than 100,000 visitors per year and hundreds of free programs is not a compromise.

Ignoring the garden’s tremendous base of support is not a compromise! Our supporters include numerous elected officials: Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez; state Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh; Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; Public Advocate Letitia James; District Leaders Vittoria Fariello, Paul Newell and Daisy Paez; Community Board 2; a total of 21 park and community organizations; more than 10,000 letters and signatures of support from local residents and small business owners; and hundreds of volunteers.

In fact, the community already compromised in 1981 when the city sold two-thirds of the former public school site for affordable housing next door and promised the current garden space would be used for public recreation.

The real compromise is preserving green open space in park-starved Little Italy and providing five times as much housing and twice the park space at a gravel-filled alternative lot at 388 Hudson St.

If the city continues to ignore this opportunity, Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden and our legal team, led by noted land-use attorney Michael Gruen, will launch a lawsuit to stop the city from destroying the garden.

Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden welcomes all who treasure the garden to join our the fight to save the garden. To learn more about our legal team, please visit ElizabethStreetGarden.ORG. This is not a done deal!

Kiely is president, Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden. She is also a member of Community Board 2, but is not writing on behalf of C.B. 2.

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