L.M.D.C. denies funds for housing on Elizabeth St. Garden

Painting pumpkins at the Elizabeth St. Garden’s Harvest Fest last fall. File photo by Tequila Minsky

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | In some encouraging news to the supporters of the Elizabeth St. Garden, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on Friday rejected the city’s application for $6 million to help fund a planned affordable housing project on the site of the treasured Little Italy / Soho green oasis.

      Last September, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development applied for the funds out of a pot of $50 million that the L.M.D.C. was making available. A wide range of other Lower Manhattan nonprofit organizations and entities also applied for funding, from the South Street Seaport Museum to the 9/11 Tribute in Light.

      At the September hearing for the applications, an H.P.D. representative said the proposed project at the Elizabeth St. Garden, known as 21 Spring St., would include 60 apartments in a seven-story building, costing from $20 million to $24 million to construct. If H.P.D. could get the $6 million from H.P.D., the official said, it would allow the city to “target deeper affordability,” in terms of who could live at the planned building.

      While the de Blasio administration and Councilmember Margaret Chin have been pushing the housing project, other local politicians have come out strongly against it, including Assemblymember Deborah Glick and state Senators Daniel Squadron and Brad Hoylman. C.B. 2 also is on record calling for the garden’s preservation.

      Previously, H.P.D. officials said the agency was planning to issue a request for proposals, or R.F.P., from developers for the project in early spring.

      Following this Friday morning’s news, Tobi Bergman, chairperson of Community Board 2, issued a statement, calling the rejection of the application an encouraging sign that the garden ultimately would be saved.

      “We were gratified to learn this morning that the city withdrew its request for funding from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation for affordable housing development at Elizabeth Street Garden,” he said.

      “This decision reflects the strength of community support for the garden,” the C.B. 2 chairperson said. “This same support will eventually lead to failure of any ongoing effort to develop housing there. If H.P.D. decides to pursue a request for proposals for the Elizabeth St. site, it will waste its own resources and those of developers who may respond to the R.F.P. without understanding the costs of the fight they will be investing in.

      “We commend Councilmember Chin for her long and passionate commitment to building affordable housing and to the needs of our senior citizens,” Bergman continued. “But we urge her to embrace the importance of this garden to her constituents and to work with the whole community to find better solutions.

      “We remain committed to working with H.P.D. and our elected officials to assure development of affordable housing at better sites in our district, starting with the city-owned site at Hudson and Clarkson Sts.

      “This is a moment of opportunity to direct the energy and unity of our community to improving our network of parks and open space while we shoulder our responsibility to contribute to the mayor’s bold plan to build affordable housing,” Bergman concluded. “It’s a moment we should not waste. We all need to pull together now.”

Chalking at Harvest Fest in the Elizabeth St. Garden. File photo by Tequila Minsky


      C.B. 2 has been advocating for a site for the affordable housing project — an open lot at Hudson and Clarkson Sts., in Hudson Square, where the city recently completed construction of a water shaft down to the new City Water Tunnel No. 3.

      The Department of Environmental Protection, which has jurisdiction over that Lower West Side site, has said it needs to maintain control of 35 percent of it, in order to preserve access to the water shaft. But, according to Bergman, D.E.P. is willing to give up the other 65 percent of the site, or about 20,000 square feet.

      Meanwhile, the Elizabeth St. Garden, located between Spring and Prince Sts., is 25,000 square feet. But only 17,000 square feet of that could be developed with housing, due to open-space and zoning restrictions. Also, the Special Little Italy District zoning caps building heights at roughly the height of an average old-style tenement, which would further constrain any potential project’s size.

      In short, the West Side option has a larger footprint, plus would allow for a taller building. A zoning change would be needed, however, to allow residential use and a taller height.

The Elizabeth St. Garden filled with activists and actively running kids enjoying the unique green space at an event celebrating the garden's volunteers last year.  Photo by Lincoln Anderson
The Elizabeth St. Garden filled with activists and actively running kids enjoying the unique green space at an event celebrating the garden’s volunteers last year. File photo by Lincoln Anderson



      For its part, H.P.D., at a presentation at C.B. 2 in January, assured that 5,000 square feet at Elizabeth St. could be preserved as open space. But the project’s opponents said that was not adequate to replace the green oasis five times that size that the community now enjoys.

      Terri Cude, C.B. 2 first vice chairperson, was at Friday’s L.M.D.C. meeting where the approved projects were unveiled.

      “They had a list of what was being funded — the Elizabeth St. Garden was not on it,” she said. “For this round of money, the L.M.D.C. basically maxed out — there was only a little money left for maintenance.

      “It takes a little pressure off the garden,” Cude said. “It also shows that L.M.D.C. recognizes that open space is a priority. A lot of what they funded was for open space. You can put more people into the city, but you can’t enjoy it if you don’t have open space, the ability to see the sky, the ability to breathe because of trees sequestering the carbon. Human beings need green.”

One of the many architectural monuments in the unique garden space.
One of the many architectural monuments in the unique garden space. File photo by Tequila Minsky


      However, according to a source, just because the L.M.D.C. denied this application, it doesn’t mean the entire housing project is off the table. And Bergman misspoke to say the city withdrew the application, the source noted.

      “The city has not withdrawn anything from this — including issuing an R.F.P.,” the source asserted. “All this will do is ensure that the lowest-income seniors will not be eligible for this project. But this funding is not critical for the project moving forward,” he said of the L.M.D.C. money.

   Bergman subsequently said, “I know we were wrong in thinking that H.P.D. withdrew [the application]. In fact, it was just not funded.”

   A Chin spokesperson said the councilmember would likely have a statement by this Monday or Tuesday on the L.M.D.C. having denied the funding.

      David Gruber, who was the C.B. 2 chairperson immediately before Bergman, also was heartened by Friday’s development, and called on Chin to heed the community’s call and drop the project. He noted that the Elizabeth St. Garden has more than 5,000 people on its mailing list.

      “She should embrace this and not try to put people in this little sliver,” Gruber said of the small Elizabeth St. site. “We’re going to have senior housing at the St. John’s site — and we’re going to give her another site. But we need this little part preserved,” he said of the garden.

      Gruber was referring to the St. John’s Partners project on Washington St. in Hudson Square across from Pier 40, which would include a whopping 476 permanently affordable apartments, 175 of which would be for seniors.