The state attorney general and the city’s Conflict of Interest Board must review contested plans to turn over a Nolita garden to developers set to transform the space into low-income housing, the head of the garden told the New York Daily News.
A group of developers aim to bulldoze the Elizabeth Street Garden and in its place erect 123 studio apartments, 15,000 square feet of ground-level retail, and some 8,000 square feet of open space to where the one acre garden now stands. The project, known as Haven Green, is a Habitat for Humanity-backed complex designed for low-income seniors—a population in desperate need of housing—and has sparked fierce community debate.
Brooklyn-based RiseBoro, among two other groups, would provide programming for residents of the development. The nonprofit was once known as the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and was infamous for its link to disgraced Assembly member Vito Lopez. Currently, the group’s board includes Frank Carone, a lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party who has donated $11,000 to de Blasio since 2011. And the garden’s executive director, Joseph Reiver, argues that Carone’s link to Mayor Bill de Blasio raises questions about the deal.
“The relationship between Mayor de Blasio, Carone and RiseBoro as one of the developer partners, coupled with the fact that the city would sell the roughly 20,000-square-foot community garden for only $1 raises serious questions,” Reiver told the Daily News. “Our attorney general and the COIB should absolutely investigate.”
RiseBoro shot back Tuesday, stressing that the garden was slated for redevelopment into housing well before the city selected developers for the project.
“RiseBoro board members have no involvement with the procurement process for any particular project or funding contract,” said Scott Short, the CEO of RiseBoro Community Partnership. “The Haven Green project was slated by the city for affordable housing years before the development team was selected, and the awarding of the bid to the development team followed a competitive selection process.”
A spokesperson for Carone called the accusation “pure and utter nonsense” and noted that the garden is in the midst of suing to stop the project.
The Elizabeth Street Garden and a separate non-profit each filed Manhattan Supreme Court suits against the city in March to halt the process. Both suits argue that the city’s environmental review failed to rigorously review the loss of the green space and are asking a judge—the same judge is presiding over each suit—to require the city conduct an Environmental Impact Statement before pressing forward with the project.
It is unclear if New York State Attorney General Letisha James will open a probe into the plans. She has been an outspoke supporter of the Nolita sculpture garden and has opposed the senior housing development in the past.