Good News for Elizabeth Street Garden

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Landslide

Good News for Elizabeth Street Garden

Good News for Elizabeth Street Garden
Jan 30, 2019

On Thursday, January 24, 2019, Manhattan’s Community Board 2 (CB2) voted unanimously to reject the plan to turn the one-acre Elizabeth Street Garden into affordable housing units. Although advisory in nature, the vote is nevertheless a modest victory for the community, local officials, and advocates who are rallying to protect the site. Leased from the City of New York on a month-to-month basis, the sculpture garden is located in Lower Manhattan’s North of Little Italy (Nolita) neighborhood and is a welcome oasis of green space. In fact, statistics from the New York City Parks Department indicate that Nolita is one of the city’s most under-served neighborhoods in terms of open space.

According to the Bowery Boogie, CB2’s final resolution was based on a meticulous analysis of the impact that the proposed Haven Green development would have on the neighborhood’s quality of life, transportation, parks, and land use. The findings constitute a response to the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) authored by the Housing Preservation Departments (HPD) and represent the first in-depth assessment of the merits of the Haven Green project. A primary criticism of the project was its failure to replicate the green space and community facilities that the garden currently provides­—an important goal expressly stated in the HPD’s original Request for Proposals. The project only provides 6,700 square feet of privately owned, publicly accessible open space, contrary to the 8,000 square feet of such space claimed by the developers. Other objections by CB2 focused on the incorrect classification of the project’s covered entrance (breezeway) as open space; the validity of certain architectural renderings that failed to display ADA-compliant pathways (which, if shown accurately, would have diminished the proposed grass cover); and the necessity of 11,000 square feet of onsite office space earmarked for co-developer Habitat NYC. CB2 further sought to recategorize the proposed open space as “shaded open space,” given the seven-story-high, T-shaped structure that would surround it were the project to be built. 

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Elizabeth Street Garden, New York City, NY - Photo courtesy Elizabeth Street Garden, 2018

The HDP-authored EAS had determined that a more thorough analysis of the potential effects (through an Environmental Impact Statement) was not warranted. At a previous public hearing of CB2, TCLF offered both written and oral testimony, calling the garden “a nationally important cultural asset, one that is unique to New York City and that cannot be replicated.” The foundation also asserted that were the city to follow ‘best practices’, the garden might well be listed in the National Register of Historic Places “as a work of outsider art that could never be recreated today or in the future.”

Echoing the work of Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Christy and the Green Guerrillas from the 1970s, the garden features several neoclassical sculptures and architectural elements, including a stone-and-granite balustrade designed by French landscape architect Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber. The balustrade was salvaged from the 36-acre Lynnewood Hall estate in the Philadelphia area. A copper gazebo designed by Olmsted Brothers for Burrwood (the former home of Walter Jennings) is also displayed in the garden, donated in perpetuity (along with the balustrade) by the garden’s founder, Allan Reiver.

TCLF enrolled the Elizabeth Street garden in its Landslide program in November 2018 after it was alerted to the Haven Green development project, which sought to replace the garden with a seven-story-high, mixed-use complex with 123 affordable housing units. Thursday’s advisory resolution by CB2’s board members has not completely derailed the Haven Green project, which now depends on a City Council vote. Under the provisions of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, the proposed housing project will next be reviewed by the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Two non-profits—Elizabeth Street Garden, Inc., and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden—are mounting a legal challenge in the hopes of saving the site. Donations to help protect and preserve it are now being accepted. Supporters can also join a letter-writing campaign to let Habitat NYC know that the garden should be saved, and can sign a petition—which already numbers more than 9,000 signatures—asking the city to halt its efforts to destroy this significant cultural landscape.