The fight over the fate of the Elizabeth Street Garden may soon be amping up. The Friends of the Elizabeth Street Garden, the nonprofit fighting to save the quirky open space, has vowed that it will sue to stop an affordable housing development from replacing the garden.
The move comes after Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer issued her formal recommendation for the redevelopment, as part of the city’s uniform land use review procedure (ULURP). Brewer threw her support behind building the affordable housing project, with some modifications.
Specifically, she recommends that the developers (Pennrose and Habitat NYC) work to increase the open space planned for the new building by 30 percent without losing any of the building’s 123 apartments, as well as seek community input on the new parkland. She also recommended that the apartments, which will be earmarked for low-income seniors and formerly homeless New Yorkers, be designated as permanently affordable.
“Given the needs for both accessible green open space and affordable housing, it is imperative that we seek solutions that will address both issues,” Brewer wrote in her recommendation. “While it is not ideal, we must compromise and find a solution that addresses the need for affordable housing while preserving as much public open space as possible.”
Brewer’s recommendation goes against that of Community Board 2, which voted against redevelopment in January.
The new development, known as Haven Green, has been in the works for some time, and is meant to address the crucial need for not just affordable housing, but housing dedicated toward the city’s vulnerable senior population. In addition to 123 studio apartments, it’ll have a dedicated community facility and a new green space, albeit one that’s smaller than the current garden. City Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the district the garden is located in, has been a steadfast supporter of the affordable housing project.
Garden supporters, however, argue that there are alternate city-owned lots that could be used for affordable housing—they’ve pointed to one at 388 Hudson Street, which is about a mile from Nolita—and that the garden adds much-needed open space to a neighborhood with very little of it. The garden has become a popular tourist attraction, and other elected officials (including Chin’s fellow Council member Rafael Espinal) have thrown their support behind the fight to keep it open.
The next step in the ULURP process is for the City Planning Commission to review the project, before it moves on to the City Council and the mayor for final approval. The borough president’s recommendation is merely advisory, so it remains to be seen how Brewer’s support will ultimately affect the outcome.
But the Friends of the Elizabeth Street Garden is ready to fight: The group has retained a land use lawyer, Michael Gruen, who was once the president of the Historic Districts Council, to take their case to court if necessary. Gruen, the president of the City Club of New York, was recently involved in the battle over the Pier 55 “floating park,” which is now moving forward.