NOLITA — The city is moving forward with a controversial plan to build affordable housing on the site of a community garden on Elizabeth Street, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development applied for $6 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to build affordable housing at 21 Spring St., the site of the volunteer-run Elizabeth Street Garden.
HPD has planned to build up to 75 units of affordable housing at this site since 2012, an agency spokesman said, as part of the Lower East Side SPURA development plan.
"The city is seeking support from the LMDC to build that housing, and intends to move forward later in the fall,” HPD spokesman David Quart said.
One of the mandatory criteria for projects receiving grants from LMDC is that it have "a high level of community interest and support."
Developing affordable housing at that site has never been popular with neighborhood residents, some fighting for the garden as a place where city kids can have some connection to greenery and others voicing fears the project would bring low-income residents into the neighborhood and drive property prices down, as The Villager reported in 2013.
According to the local community board, Little Italy and SoHo comprises nearly a quarter of the district's population, but only 3 percent of its parkland. Elizabeth Street Garden regularly hosts free outdoor yoga classes and events for children and adults, from a "worm release" earlier this summer to teach kids how plants grow to a sneak preview just this past weekend of a massive outdoor performance that will take place in Hudson River Park later this year.
But the local volunteers' claim to the land is considered shaky by many officials, given it wasn't a community garden until about a year ago. And unlike other community gardens around the city, the volunteers never sought HPD or Parks Department permission to use the space.
Community Board 2 hosted a meeting earlier this spring at the request of HPD to discuss building affordable housing on the site, where senior HPD staff told board members the agency wanted to include some open space, but would probably only be able to do so behind the buildings — likely providing open space for residents, but not the public.
According to notes on the meeting, CB 2 Chair Tobi Bergman urged the city officials present, including Councilwoman Margaret Chin and members of her staff, to consider building affordable housing at "every government-owned site in the district" instead of at Elizabeth Street Garden, specifically suggesting three sites where the Department of Environmental Protection has spent the past several years constructing massive shafts leading to one of the city's water tunnels, as well as a federal parking garage at Howard Street and Lafayette.
He reiterated that push in an emergency resolution passed by the board's executive committee late last week, calling on HPD to consider using the other sites, which he said would amount to three times as much affordable housing, and allow Elizabeth Street Garden to be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department.
Chin has long advocated for 60 or more units of affordable housing for seniors at the Elizabeth Street Garden site, and said in a statement Monday that the area "desperately needs it."
"As the number of seniors in this neighborhood grows, so does the demand for affordable housing units tailored to the needs of elderly New Yorkers," Chin said. "Our seniors should not have to wait any longer for that promise to be kept."
The LMDC will hold a public hearing on the project in September, at a date that has not yet been set.