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Elizabeth Street Garden Supporters Lash Out at City Request to Develop It

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 15, 2016 4:46pm
 Children decorate pumpkins at the 2013 Harvest Festival at Elizabeth Street Garden.
Children decorate pumpkins at the 2013 Harvest Festival at Elizabeth Street Garden.
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Elizabeth Street Garden/Aaron Booher

NOLITA — Volunteers who have spent the past three years caring for the Elizabeth Street Garden are lashing out at City Councilwoman Margaret Chin now that the city has officially released a request for proposals to build affordable senior housing on the site.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Street Garden Development Bids Requested by the City

The garden lies on the eastern edge of Community Board 2, but the plan to build on it is connected to the Lower East Side SPURA development in neighboring Community Board 1.

Chin negotiated a plan to build on the garden back in 2012, when it was still locked off and unused as it had been for years.

But in the intervening years, locals — predominantly from Community Board 2, which is split among Chin, Councilman Corey Johnson and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez — turned the garden into a outdoor community center of sorts where they host free fitness classes, outdoor workshops for children and movie screenings.

They have fought the city's plan to build, successfully convincing the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation not to give funding to the project and delivering thousands of letters to the mayor that support saving the garden.

READ MORE: Elizabeth Street Garden Backers Cheer as Housing Threat Gets No Funds

After the city officially released a request for proposals on Wednesday, the volunteers issued a statement vowing that they "will not back down and allow real estate developers and elected officials to ignore us any longer."

Chin "has turned a deaf ear to her constituents," the statement from Jeannine Kiely, president of Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden, said.

Community Board 2 has been pushing the administration to consider instead building on a city-owned water tunnel site on Hudson Street where the community was promised a public park years ago.

READ MORE: City Reneges on Promised Public Parks in Greenwich Village, Board Says

"For three years, [the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development] and Councilmember Chin have refused to work with Community Board 2 to save this beloved garden and build five times as much housing at a better site on Hudson Street," Community Board 2 chair Tobi Bergman said.

"The garden has the overwhelming support of local residents, businesses and elected officials."

The city's RFP emphasized that any prospective developers would have to include a minimum of 5,000 square feet of open space to be used by the community — a concession Bergman mocked.

"This magical RFP promises public open space with lawns, trees, walks, planting, seating, sun, shade, recreation, education and events — all in the area of a basketball court surrounded by seven-story buildings," he said.

An HPD official noted that the Hudson Street site is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection and in a different councilman's district.

Because only 70 new affordable units have been built in CB 2 over the past decade, HPD wants to use all the city-owned sites it possibly can, the official said, "in order to ensure more low-income New Yorkers have access to all our City’s great neighborhoods."