The City Planning Commission unanimously approved a controversial redevelopment of the Elizabeth Street Garden that will raze the Nolita green space and replace it with housing.
The Wednesday approval is the latest in the lengthy land use review process of the Haven Green project—developed by Pennrose Properties with Habitat for Humanity NYC—that is set to bring 123 studio apartments, programming for residents, and some 8,000 square feet of open space. Advocates for the Elizabeth Street Garden have waged a fierce campaign against the project, which has pit the sculpture garden against low-income housing. While recognizing that the matter is “multifaceted and complex,” the CPC’s chairperson felt that the creation of affordable housing in the sought after neighborhood was too great an opportunity to turn down.
“In a neighborhood that has so few undeveloped parcels, every piece of vacant land has the potential to meet multiple, and at times, conflicting neighborhood needs,” said Marisa Lago during the commission’s Wednesday hearing. “And in a neighborhood with an area medium income as high as this one, the search for land on which to construct affordable housing is especially challenging.”
Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, who is the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, reinforced that sentiment. “It’s really important that the city take opportunities such as this, affirmatively furthering fair housing in communities where we’ve seen dramatic shifts racially and socioeconomically,” de la Uz said.
Lago praised the project’s focus on providing housing for vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community and that a portion of the development will remain as publicly accessible open space. But both Lago and de la Uz urged the development team behind the project “in the strongest terms possible” to extend the new open space’s hours beyond 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
“Even on an early spring day like today, it’s evident that those hours are far too short and we expect to see longer hours,” said Lago.
The commission’s vote comes after a tense CPC hearing where supporters of the garden sparred with proponents of affordable housing. Advocates for the garden have argued that the Manhattan neighborhood has a lack of green space and that the city should look to other vacant lots to build housing.
“[We are] disappointed that the city continues to ignore a win-win solution and pit essential community needs—green space and housing—against each other, instead of building five times as much affordable housing for local seniors at a nearby city-owned gravel-filled lot at 388 Hudson St.,” Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, a non-profit devoted to protecting the garden, said in a Thursday statement.
Elected officials and locals have pushed back on the group’s claims, and the city has said it’s not an either or situation with developing housing on vacant city-owned space, noting that the lot garden supports point to will likely be developed into below-market-rate housing as well.
Last month, the garden and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden filed separate lawsuits against the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development in Manhattan Supreme Court, arguing that the city’s environmental review failed to rigorously evaluate the impacts of the green space’s loss.
The legal challenges ask that the court force the city to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement before moving forward with plans to replace the one-acre open space with affordable housing. Supreme Court Judge Debra A. James has been assigned to review both lawsuits.
Now that the Haven Green project has made it through the CPC, the application will head to the City Council where lawmakers have 50 days from receiving the commission’s report to review the project, hold a public hearing on it, and finally cast a make-or-break vote. The council often falls in line with the local legislator’s vote, and Council member Margaret Chin has expressed unwavering support for the plan.