B.P. Brewer approves housing on Eliz. St. Garden

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. (File photo)

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It doesn’t come as a surprise, but Borough President Gale Brewer has officially approved the city’s Haven Green project for the Elizabeth St. Garden.

However, Brewer’s recommendation — released Tuesday — comes with “modifications/conditions.”

Among her handful of caveats, the borough president says she would like the project to include at least 30 percent more open space than it currently does — although without reducing the number of affordable housing units or increasing the project’s height.

She also says the remaining green space should be mapped as park space and managed by the city’s Parks Department.

Brewer’s signing off on the project completes her portion of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which can take half a year to complete.

The treasured Little Italy community garden covers 20,110 square feet on a city-owned lot, spanning from Elizabeth St. to Mott St., between Spring and Prince Sts.

The proposed development team includes Pennrose, RiseBoro Community Partnership and Habitat for Humanity NYC.

As currently planned, the building would rise seven stories, or 75 feet tall, and enclose 82,120 square feet. Of that amount, 77,600 square feet would be residential and 4,400 square feet commercial. There would also be 11,200 square feet for a community facility, earmarked for offices for Habitat for Humanity.

The building would include 123 studio apartments for seniors, all for households earning 60 percent or less of area median income (A.M.I.). Thirty-seven units specifically would be slated for formerly homeless persons earning less than 30 percent of A.M.I.

The proposed project would include 6,700 square feet of open space that would be owned by the developer. Brewer’s request for 30 percent more open space would translate to roughly 8,000 square feet.

A rendering of the Haven Green project that the de Blasio administration and Councilmember Margaret Chin want built on the current site of the Elizabeth St. Garden. A passageway from Elizabeth St. going under the building would connect to the remaining open space on Mott St.

Community Board 2 led off the ULURP review of the plan when it voted last month to recommend “disapproval with conditions” on the application, in a vote of 30 to 7, with 4 abstentions.

The recommendations of both Brewer and C.B. 2 are advisory only. However, the upcoming stages of ULURP are binding — including a vote by the Department of City Planning, followed by the City Council’s vote.

In her recommendation, Brewer notes that, according to the City Environmental Quality Review, or CEQR, New York City’s “optimal open space goal is 2.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents.” However, she concedes, “The area in which the development is [planned] has been acknowledged as [being] underserved by open space, with…0.153 acres per 1,000 residents.

“The Elizabeth St. Garden, in the five years since the proposed development was announced, has grown to become a cherished community resource as an accessible open green space,” Brewer writes. “However, there is a growing need for affordable housing throughout the city and especially within Community Board 2, which has only seen 93 units of affordable housing built since 2014.”

People enjoying the Elizabeth St. Garden on a summer weekend. (File photo by Lincoln Anderson)

Brewer adds that the 6,700 square feet of open space included in the project — while less than what is there now — is “still significant.”

Habitat for Humanity’s involvement in the garden-destroying scheme has infuriated the garden’s supporters — with some bitterly saying Habitat has “tarnished its halo.”

However, in her recommendation, Brewer writes, “Habitat NYC’s office will also occupy 11,200 square feet in the building, more than half of which will be located in the cellar… . This is consistent with other affordable housing developments within the city where nonprofits occupy community-facility space for their operations.”

Habitat NYC’s “mission” is to build and preserve owner-occupied homes throughout New York City, Brewer notes. In addition, she says, Habitat NYC, RiseBoro and SAGE [Seniors Active in a Gay Environment] will provide assistance — to the building’s residents, as well as the surrounding community — with entitlements and benefits, wellness activities and other educational programming, such as computer classes and homeownership education.

The B.P., in her recommendation, notes she has met with the two main garden groups — Elizabeth St. Garden and Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden.

“Their efforts to preserve the garden in its current state have garnered widespread support…” she writes, adding, “I have received 3,097 emails regarding the garden… .”

As to shifting Haven Green to an alternative site favored by the opponents — a city-owned lot at Hudson and Clarkson Sts. — Brewer nixed it.

“Unfortunately, our housing crisis and growing senior population do not allow for an either/or scenario,” the B.P.’s statement says. “We must build permanently affordable housing wherever feasible while also maximizing open space on these sites for additional public benefit.”

The “Beep” also says the proposed building’s units should be affordable forever, serving low-income and formerly homeless persons “in perpetuity.”

As for the community-facility space, she writes it should always be tenanted by a nonprofit “that performs community development and local services [and] should never be rented to for-profit community-facility uses.”

Joseph Reiver, executive director of Elizabeth St. Garden, said Brewer’s position doesn’t come as a shock, especially after garden leaders met with her on Feb. 15.

“When we met with her, she kept saying, ‘Would 8,000 square feet be enough?’” for the garden, he said. “We knew the direction she was going in.

“What’s crucial here,” he added, “is that they’re going to destroy what’s there. Once you destroy Elizabeth St. Garden, you destroy it.”

In other words, the developers would raze the existing garden, construct Haven Green and then add back in a slice of green space.

“Elizabeth St. Garden is more than just space,” Reiver said. “It’s iconic. … It’s sad and telling that she’s visited the garden — and at a Harvest Festival, when there were 1,000 people coming in and out of that garden — she’s seen the outcry. I feel it’s the relationship between her and Margaret and it’s just the way this administration works.”

Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin — the Haven Green project’s main sponsor — are friends and allies. Meanwhile, all the area’s other politicians support saving the garden.

“Everyone’s got their eye on what’s happening here,” Reiver said. “If they can destroy what we have here at Elizabeth St. Garden, what’s next?”

Reiver said it’s unfortunate that his group — which is being represented by famed civil-rights attorney Norman Siegel — will be forced to sue to try to stop the project.

Jeannine Kiely, founder of Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden, issued a statement, saying Brewer had squandered the chance for a “win-win outcome.”

“Friends of Elizabeth St. Garden is disappointed by Borough President Gale Brewer’s decision to support the development that will destroy Elizabeth St. Garden,” she said. “The borough president’s recommendations are advisory, however, not definitive, and Friends is taking steps to stop the destruction of our desperately needed open space by preparing to launch a lawsuit led by prominent land-use attorney Michael Gruen.

“Garden supporters should not be surprised, despite Brewer’s long advocacy for urban gardening and environmental education,” Kiely pointed out. “She never joined the long list of elected officials who support saving the garden and building up to five times as much housing on an alternative city-owned site. Instead, our borough president has forgone this win-win outcome.”

The two garden groups have pledged to coordinate their legal efforts to defeat Haven Green.