Squadron comes out against housing on Elizabeth St. Garden

State Senator Dan Squadron has joined Assemblymember Deborah Glick in opposing federal funding for a senior housing project earmarked for the heavily used Elizabeth St. Garden.
State Senator Dan Squadron has joined Assemblymember Deborah Glick in opposing federal funding for a senior housing project earmarked for the heavily used Elizabeth St. Garden.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Another local politician is now urging that an application for federal funding for an affordable housing project on the Elizabeth St. Garden be denied.

On Wed., Sept. 30, state Senator Daniel Squadron wrote Joseph Chan, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, calling on the agency to deny the $6 million grant.

Instead, Squadron — whose district includes the highly popular garden — said, the city should work with Community Board 2 to find “an appropriate location” for the housing — one that won’t destroy the garden — and should “take into account” the position of the local community board on the issue.

C.B. 2 is on record — twice — supporting the permanent preservation of the garden in open-space-starved Little Italy.

The city’s Department of Housing and Development, however, hopes to use the L.M.D.C. money to help build from 60 to 100 units of senior affordable housing on the garden, which is located on Elizabeth St. between Spring and Prince Sts. The L.M.D.C. funds would finance about one-fourth of the project’s cost.

“Open space and affordable housing are both urgent needs for communities throughout Lower Manhattan,” Squadron wrote Chan, adding, “The city should work with C.B. 2 and ensure these affordable senior units are built in an appropriate location within C.B. 2.

“I believe it is important to take into account the concerns of the local community board. Therefore, I believe L.M.D.C. must seriously consider this resolution and not approve funding applications to develop at Elizabeth St. Garden at this time.”

Councilmember Margaret Chin — whose district also contains the garden — is the housing project’s main sponsor. She and the Bloomberg administration quietly earmarked the garden site for affordable housing in 2012 — but without first notifying C.B. 2 — as an “add-on” to the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area development. Yet the SPURA project is located in C.B. 3 not C.B. 2, and it underwent years of painstaking review by C.B. 3 and local stakeholder groups until, after tremendous political effort, a consensus was reached. Meanwhile, the plan for the Elizabeth St. Garden was a complete end-around, undergoing zero public review before the unique urban green oasis was stealthily targeted for development.

However, at the L.M.D.C. hearing on the funding application two weeks ago, much to Chin’s chagrin, yet another Downtown-area politician, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, strongly came out against allowing housing there, saying the development should instead be shifted to an alternative city-owned site that C.B. 2 Chairperson Tobi Bergman has identified at Hudson and Clarkson Sts.

Glick added that the Hudson Square site is larger and so could hold even more units of affordable housing — “and equally important, it would do so without the destruction of existing community open space.”

The garden is just outside Glick’s district by a block or two, depending on which side — it’s nestled in a small indentation on the edge of her district, which, however, means she does represent constituents who live near the garden and use it.

According to Bergman, there is strong support on the board for affordable at the Hudson St. site, so there would be no conflict in building it there, as opposed to at the Little Italy location.

While the affordable housing plan for the Elizabeth St. lot was hatched under the Bloomberg administration, Mayor de Blasio, so far, has shown no signs of reconsidering it, and H.P.D., disregarding the sentiment of the community, is refusing to negotiate at all with C.B. 2.

Bergman has been taken aback by the cold shoulder he’s received from H.P.D. He called on de Blasio to do the right thing and achieve a win-win solution, by preserving the garden while building even more affordable housing on the expansive West Side site. As it stands now, the garden was simply targeted for housing by fiat by Bloomberg and Chin. But Bergman is now asking the city to take a democratic approach to the issue.

“He may have been elected too late to correct the harm done by Bloomberg at N.Y.U.,” Bergman said of de Blasio, referring to the university’s N.Y.U. 2031 mega-development plan in the South Village. “But no land-use decision has been made at the Elizabeth St. Garden. He has an opportunity to correct the autocratic decision of his predecessor.”

According to Chin, L.M.D.C. will make its decision on the funding application sometime this month.