Elizabeth Street Garden supporters sue NYC over affordable housing plans

The Elizabeth Street Garden offers free community programming year-round. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The city’s plan to turn the 20,000-square-foot greenspace into a mixed-use building is unlawful, the lawsuit claims.

The Elizabeth Street Garden offers free community programming year-round.
The Elizabeth Street Garden offers free community programming year-round. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Little Italy and SoHo locals are strapping up their gardening boots, tightening their gloves and shoveling a heavy lawsuit against New York City to stop Elizabeth Street Garden from becoming a mixed-use building.

The city plans to convert parts of the garden into a seven-floor building that includes affordable housing for seniors and a 6,700-square-foot open space that would be available to the public, a proposal known as the Haven Green Project. However, members of Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, as well as Assembs. Deborah Glick and Yuh-Line Niou, argue the city’s plan to convert the 20,000-square-foot greenspace between Spring and Prince streets is “unlawful.”

“Greenspace in our downtown community that has been long considered and used as a garden is in effect a park enjoyed by the public," said Glick. "Elizabeth Street Garden is an oasis of open space, light and air in a community in Lower Manhattan that lacks equitable park space.

“While the pursuit of building more affordable housing and senior housing in our communities is a noble goal, the city must work with local residents in a transparent process to find equitable solutions that will produce the most good in our neighborhoods.”

The new development  will have retail and office space in addition to 123 studio apartments for seniors. Habitat for Humanity New York City and Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE) will be two of the building’s occupants. The open space surrounding the building will include gardening areas and public art displays, as well as a covered entryway from Mott Street to Elizabeth Street.

The garden’s supporters said in the lawsuit that the Haven Green Negative Declaration, a report outlining the project and its potential impacts, neglected to include information about ground contamination from hazardous materials. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued the report in November, stating “the proposed actions will have no significant effect on the quality of the environment.”

The suit also claims that the assessment did not include the negative impact of reducing the availability of public open space, that the city classified the garden as a “blight” only to encourage support for the plan and exempt the project from property taxes, and that the deal the city has with the building developer is “suspicious.”

Elizabeth Street Garden, Inc., a nonprofit, also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, stating the need for more thorough environmental impact research.

Both organizations have urged the city to develop the project on a vacant lot at 388 Hudson St. instead. Community Board 2, which represents the area of Elizabeth Street Garden, has supported the organizations in the alternative plan, stating that they were “deeply concerned” that HPD  hadn’t evaluated the area as an alternative.

“Elizabeth Street Garden is a vital part of the Little Italy and SoHo communities, an indispensable asset to all who live, work and visit,” said Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden member Emily Hellstrom. “Its beauty and peaceful, open expanse to the sky gives sanctuary in a city that can be unrelenting. To destroy it, when there is a better alternative site, is not only bad city planning but also unconscionable.”  

The city is considering the area for additional affordable housing in the future, but not housing that will replace the current plan at Elizabeth Street Garden.

City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said the agency had yet to be served, but added that "HPD stands by its review of a project which is expected to create more affordable housing."

Li Yakira Cohen