Hearing Held on Elizabeth Street Garden

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Landslide

Hearing Held on Elizabeth Street Garden

Hearing Held on Elizabeth Street Garden
Jan 18, 2019

On Monday, January 14, 2019, New York City’s Community Board 2 (CB2) held a public hearing on the fate of the Elizabeth Street Garden, a community sculpture garden in Lower Manhattan’s North of Little Italy (Nolita) neighborhood that provides a rare oasis of green space to the local community. Occupying a one-acre plot that is leased from the City of New York on a month-to-month basis, the garden is now facing demolition in the wake of plans to develop the Haven Green project, which would include affordable housing, office space, and market-rate retail space on the property. 

According to the local news source Bowery Boogiethe hearing was supposed to discuss "the results of four reports analyzing how the proposed mixed-use affordable housing complex would impact the neighborhood of Little Italy with regard to Land-Use, Quality of Life, Transportation, and Parks. These four subcommittee reports are in response to the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) and represent the first real examination of Haven Green based on its merits, something developers and HPD [the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development] have yet to truly encounter." The article adds: "The EAS is supposed to be an accounting of how a project impacts a neighborhood on the whole; yet in this case, HPD, the city agency disposing the land (essentially the client), had full authorship of the determining document."

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

People of all ages and backgrounds showed up at Monday’s meeting in support of the garden. The community's input was important because the HPD-authored EAS had determined that a more thorough analysis of the potential effects (through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)) was not warranted. 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 testimony also drew parallels between the garden and the work of Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Christy and the Green Guerrillas from the 1970s, citing the fact that Joseph Reiver, the garden’s creator and benefactor, “not only cleaned up the lot and planted grass, trees, and shrubs, but he also envisioned something that was a unique artistic expression,” transforming the formerly vacant parcel “into a rare section of green space that should be viewed as a unique and irreplaceable artistic expression in the tradition of Watts Towers in Los Angeles and Opus 40 in Saugerties, New York, which are, respectively, listed as a National Historic Landmark and a National Register-designated property.”

The garden displays several neoclassical sculptures and architectural elements including a stone-and-granite balustrade designed by French landscape architect Jacques-Henri-Auguste Gréber, which lines the primary pathway. 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) also stands prominently among pear trees, rose bushes, and beds of black-eyed Susans. Reiver donated the balustrade and the gazebo to the non-profit Elizabeth Street Garden.

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

TCLF enrolled the Elizabeth Street Garden in its Landslide program in November 2018 after it was alerted to the Haven Green project, which would replace the garden with a seven-story-high, mixed-use building with 123 affordable-housing units. Although Monday’s hearing (held by CB2’s Elizabeth Street Garden Working Group) was the final opportunity for public input before the Community Board issues an advisory resolution when it meets on January 24, 2019, the approval process is far from complete. 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.

Donations to help protect and preserve the Elizabeth Street Garden 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.