By Alec Pruchnicki
It’s much easier to think of an alternative to a controversial project than to complete the years of hard work necessary to implement that alternative. Supporters of the Elizabeth Street Garden have proposed several alternative sites for housing—the biggest one being on Hudson and Houston Streets. But, there are problems with this site.
The Hudson Street site, theoretically, could accommodate five times as many apartments as Elizabeth Street. But, where is the funding? If Elizabeth Street site funding, which was piggy-backed onto the giant Seward Urban Park Renewal Area (SPURA) project, could be immediately applied, it would only cover a fraction of the cost. Recently, the City even rejected funding for an engineering study that Community Board 2 requested. No funding means no project.
Speaking of engineering, the southern half of the Hudson Street site is riddled with infrastructure problems. There are two large air shafts going down to the new water tunnel, along with about 28 full-sized sewer manhole covers and 24 small covers for gas and water shut-off valves. It might be difficult, if not impossible, for a site crisscrossed with these lines to accommodate a foundation for any sizable building.
Hudson and Houston Streets is also one of the busiest intersections in the West Village, compared to tiny Elizabeth Street. Traffic along Houston Street is often very fast as drivers try to beat the red lights. How dangerous would this intersection be for young children or old people with their unstable gaits, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs?
Margaret Chin was criticized for arranging Elizabeth Street housing without public input. Have Hudson Street alternative site supporters actually looked at the immediate area? Adjacent to the empty lot is P.S. 721, which is a high school for special needs students. Would those parents object to a massive building project, the way Upper West Side parents at P.S. 163 recently objected, and sued, to stop the construction of a new nursing home near their school? South, southwest, and west of the lot are office buildings from which there might not be any objections. However, the luxury condo owners at 421 Hudson Street, northwest of the lot, and the owners of apparently expensive brownstones one block north on St. Luke’s Place, might object to a massive building of apartments significantly less expensive than their own homes. Would this endanger the value of those expensive homes?
If there are many younger families with children, would this lead to more overcrowding in nearby P.S. 3 and the soon-to-be opened school at 75 Morton Street, as well as opposition from those families? Would a significantly tall building elicit local opposition on the basis of neighborhood overcrowding the way height has been an issue in many other West Village projects (e.g., St. Vincent’s in 2007, Gansevoort Street, the new Jane Street condos, etc.)? It only takes a few of these potential opponents to hire a lawyer and tie up this alternative project for years.
Funding, infrastructure, and potential lawyered-up opponents all make this site difficult, if not impossible, to develop. It is a fake alternative. Build housing on Elizabeth Street already.