By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
The bureaucracy moves slowly, even when it’s moving in the wrong direction.
Green space, once developed with buildings, changes the character of the space forever.
From 1822 to 1970, neighbors of the Elizabeth Street Garden (ESG) in the NOHO (North of Houston) and SLID (Special Little Italy District), had a neighborhood recreation space. Since then, they have expressed their concern that years of promises by the city are being ignored, in favor of a mis-guided plan to destroy this ESG green space.
The ESG site was part of the Free School Society’s P.S. 5, built in 1822 with outdoor play areas, which was donated to the city in 1853 for city educational use, according to the deed restrictions.
In 1981 the city sold the southern part of the school site to LIRA, a non-profit Section 8 affordable housing organization, for a 151-unit building at 21 Spring Street, reserving the northern part (the ESG site) “exclusively for recreational use.”
Now the double-cross begins: instead of abiding by the deed restrictions, or even abiding by its obligation to keep the lot available as recreation space, the city allowed the site to deteriorate as a fenced-in garbage dump, trying to pass off the site to the 21 Spring Street tenants, who could not afford to maintain it.
Then Elizabeth Street Gallery, a store selling antiques and architectural decorations, began renting the weedy, fenced lot from the city in 1990, by promising to clean up the garbage; they did that and so much more. Since 2013, the lot has been opened for and by neighbors. For the seniors living at 21 Spring Street, and all the other neighbors, the Garden is a godsend, as they have repeatedly testified at public hearings.
The double-cross isn’t over yet. In 2012, the councilperson in a different district, the Essex Crossing Redevelopment area, made a backroom deal ear-marking the ESG site for affordable housing, without informing the neighbors or CB2 (Community Board 2) until a year after the deal was made. Once this double-cross was discovered, a concerted effort began to return ESG to “exclusively for recreational use.”
CB2 joined in recapping the disingenuous way the city has mistreated this district at its public board meeting on January 24th, 2019. The community board has studied the various issues for years, reported their findings at the open meetings, and strongly advocated for much-needed park space, as well as more consideration of sites for affordable housing close to community and recreational centers, public libraries and parks. Their findings seem to go unheeded.
This impasse seems to beg the question: can we get both affordable housing and more park space, rather than either/or? The city needs both to survive; if we destroy one to get the other, how will the balance be restored?
At this stage of the double-cross, the city and mayor have ignored pleas to consider better sites, and the developers have not bothered to engage with the community in any meaningful way (according to meeting comments). Citing lack of true community space and essential amenities, loss of park space, lack of neighborhood character, and lack of accessibility if the open space is not given to the Parks Department for the purpose of building a public park—to be overseen by the Parks Department, not the developers—Friends of ESG want the park-like atmosphere to be preserved as a public neighborhood park forever, as promised by the city.
- The Haven Green proposal is for an affordable senior housing development for this site. In November 2018, the public got its first preview of a potential development plan from Philip Habib & Associates, for Penrose LLC, and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In June 2019, city council approved the plan.
- The City will sell the land to the developer team Haven Green (made up of Pennrose Properties, Habitat NYC, and Riseboro) for $1.
- The affordability is not permanent, with a required minimum of 30 years as affordable housing, before it could turn into market rate housing.
- Developers will destroy the garden to develop approximately 13,300 of the roughly 20,000 sq.ft. garden site.
- The studio housing will not really be for seniors “aging in place.”
Seniors that live outside of CB2 have 1,000 to 1 odds of winning a lottery for units.