C.B. 3, pols support Siempre; Nursing home’s future unclear

A developer’s plan for Siempre Verde Garden is “producing” great concern as seen by the turnout at C.B. 3.  Photo by Lesley Sussman
A developer’s plan for Siempre Verde Garden is “producing” great concern as seen by the turnout at C.B. 3. Photo by Lesley Sussman

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN  |  Everything came up roses for local community garden advocates at Community Board 3’s recent full-board meeting. They cheered loudly as the board voted unanimously to support a resolution by its Land Use Subcommittee recommending that the popular Siempre Verde Garden become a permanent community garden.

At Stanton and Attorney Sts., the city’s youngest GreenThumb-licensed garden is at risk because a developer hopes to build a mostly luxury 16-unit building on the small parcel of greenery and two adjoining plots of land now under control of the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development. The project would include a small number of affordable units.

The William Gottlieb company, which owns the 137 Attorney St. lot, plans to combine it with the two city-owned parcels, 181 Stanton St. and 139 Attorney St. Siempre Verde Garden has operated since 2012.

Garden advocates packed the Oct. 28 full board meeting, urging C.B. 3 members to ratify the subcommittee’s resolution, which recommends H.P.D. turn over control of its two plots to the Parks Department.

Speakers from an array of gardening advocacy groups — from the East Village Community Coalition to the New York City Gardening Coalition — testified for saving the garden.

Claire Costello, a Siempre Verde volunteer, said, “When we first started the garden, it looked like a pile of rubble, and we transformed it. We need to keep it because there are only five gardens left below Houston St. in a population of about 80,000 people.”

Also speaking out strongly for saving Siempre Verde as permanent open space were representatives of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Councilmember Margaret Chin.

Some advocates expressed concern that the garden’s GreenThumb contract is due to expire at this month’s end. But a Chin rep said the councilmember has “already begun working on getting an extension on the contract. This is not going to be a problem.”

C.B. 3 member Ayo Harrington urged the mayor’s representative at the meeting to make de Blasio aware of the situation.

“Please tell the mayor that community gardens in our community are coming under attack,” Harrington said. “We want to make sure that our 47 remaining community gardens are protected. We used to have 57, but we already lost 10 of them to developers.”

“We’re already very aware of the situation,” said de Blasio liaison Tommy Linn. “It’s already on our radar. We are going to try to find a resolution for this.”

Zack Bommer, a Silver aide, said the speaker has already expressed his support for maintaining the garden as an open space and urged its transfer to Parks.

Silver believes the garden is “a vital green space that is enjoyed by so many of our neighbors,” Bommer said. “Here, on the Lower East Side, public parks and gardens are at a premium, and we cannot afford to lose this important community treasure.”

The board voted unanimously in support of retaining Siempre Verde. C.B. 3 Chairperson Gigi Li told the placard-waving crowd, “This garden will become a permanent community garden.”

On another important issue, the board supported a resolution calling for Rivington House, at 45 Rivington St., one of the city’s largest nursing homes for AIDS patients, to be converted to a nonprofit general nursing home with the maximum number of beds. VillageCare, which operates the current 206-bed home, has said the facility will close this month, reportedly because it is operating at a huge financial loss.

Justin Carroll, chairperson of C.B. 3’s Human Services, Health, Disability & Seniors Subcommittee, said VillageCare has assured that any new nursing facility located there will operate on a nonprofit basis. Rivington House, which opened in 1995, is already empty of patients, Carroll said.

However, board member Enrique Cruz said, “Our concern is that months later the owners could turn around and make it a for-profit operation.”

Carroll said changing the nonprofit status would require a lengthy process involving city approval. He said he has not heard of any potential buyer for the facility.