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LES Board Votes to Save Garden, Reject New Development

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Having to chose between three affordable housing units and a community garden was not hard a Lower East Side community board committee. At a meeting last night, the committee easily chose the garden and had the full support of the public. Thehbia Walters, director of Manhattan Planning at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, stood alone, between an impassioned crowd holding giant cardboard vegetables and board members bent on preserving all community gardens on city owned land.

The drama came with the reappearance of William Gottlieb Real Estate's plan to build a five-story, 16-unit building on an L-shaped set of three lots at Stanton and Attorney Streets. Both CB3 and HPD approved of Gottlieb's plan in 2012. (HPD was involved because it owned two of the lots). Within months, neighbors organized around making the HPD owned lots into an official garden, known as the Siempre Verde Garden, for interim use, after efforts to formalize gardening there never fully materialized. CB3 approved of that too, and so did HPD, leading to the garden's Greenthumb status. "Knowing how long it takes for a project to get in our pipeline, it was a perfectly reasonable request and use of our land, as a garden," Walters said. She said HPD discussed the development plans with Gottlieb throughout 2013.

Walters arrived ready for resistance. "I understand the value of gardens to communities," she said, acknowledging that three affordable housing units would not sound like generous compensation for a two-year-old community garden to those attended. But, she said, there isn't much HPD can do about the limited affordable housing at the site, which is in part due to the L-shape of the lots.

The committee showed little sympathy for HPD or Gottlieb in return. Board member Bill LoSasso said, "I think that we need to be clear that this is a garden permanently." Walters continued to show her willingness to support the garden somehow. "I want to have this conversation," she said. "We do also care about neighborhoods. We care about all the things that go into making a neighborhood good."

But LoSasso proposed a resolution that would reject the application and transfer the garden to the Parks Department, making it permanent, setting off cheers. He met some resistance from colleagues, though, when he reached the final clause of his proposal, which said all community gardens on city owned land in the city would be transferred over to the Parks Department. After much discussion, the committee struck the global proposal clause and limited the resolution to the lots at hand, for now, to which the committee voted in favor. The committee will see how the full board feels, even about the global proposal, on October 28.
· Siempre Verde Garden coverage [Curbed]
· All William Gottlieb coverage [Curbed]