NOLITA — As local volunteers gear up to fight the city's plan to build affordable senior housing on the Elizabeth Street Garden, here's what you need to know about the history of the site and the claims both sides are making.
The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is planning to develop the site, and maintains that although the garden has been used as an informal open space for years, it was established without permission from the city and a formal license agreement was never granted.
This is complicated, however, by the fact that an agreement for affordable housing dating back to the 1980s was supposed to establish the site as a public "recreation area" — the city never followed through, however, and the lot grew derelict and was locked off for decades, until volunteers got involved just a few years ago.
Here's a timeline of the history of the site, and the fight thus far:
A school on the city-owned site, P.S. 21, is demolished.
The city sells part of the lot to LIRA Apartments Co. to build the 152 units of Section 8 affordable housing that now sit at 21 Spring St.
The agreement between the city and LIRA requires LIRA to develop and maintain a public "recreation area" on the remaining portion of the school site, which continued to be city-owned.
LIRA never follows through with this, however, and the site becomes derelict.
Allan Reiver, proprietor of the neighboring Elizabeth Street Gallery, gets Community Board 2's support to lease the derelict lot — at that time overgrown with weeds and covered in debris — and store sculptures there.
The city begins to lease the lot to Reiver on a month-to-month basis for $4,000 per month. Reiver cleans the lot — as he promised CB 2 — plants trees, shrubs and lawns, and maintains it.
Reiver purchases the building next to the lot, where he lives and runs his gallery, and allows public access to the garden through the gallery, advertised on a sign outside the garden.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin secures a promise from the city to build affordable senior housing on the lot as part of the negotiations for the Lower East Side SPURA development.
Local families at an "It's My Park Day" in DeSalvio Playground resolve to increase public access to the garden, but soon learn it has been designated as a development site.
The volunteers then enlist the support of local business owners and form a nonprofit to support the garden. They host free events and classes, plant flowers and allow public access to the park daily from noon to 6 p.m. through gates on Elizabeth Street.
Community Board 2 issues a resolution urging the city to consider other sites, specifically highlighting the Hudson Square Special District, where residential projects with affordable units are granted a zoning bonus.
They also urge the city to work on preserving existing units, noting that "the area around the garden includes the affordable housing at 21 Spring Street, the rehabilitation project for a low-income co-op at 244 Elizabeth St., and a significant stock of rent-stabilized apartments, many of which are at risk as property owners seeking to take advantage of high market-rate rental values are able to terminate the stabilized status, often but not always using legal means."
Community Board 2 and the garden volunteers learn the plan to build is moving forward when HPD applies for a Lower Manhattan Development Corporation grant.
The LMDC hearing on funding the development at the Elizabeth Street site, as well as several other projects, draws hordes of garden supporters, as well as seniors and senior advocates pushing for the housing plan.
HPD attends a Community Board 2 meeting to discuss the project, and says construction is expected to commence in Spring 2018.
Garden supporters claim a victory when LMDC opts not to fund the development project.
The city releases a request for proposals to build on the garden, and garden volunteers lash out at Councilwoman Chin and Mayor Bill de Blasio, vowing to fight the development.
Community Board 2 is still urging the city to build elsewhere, specifically a larger city-owned site in Hudson Square.
City officials say they are exploring building there, but do not see prospective development there as a reason not to build on the Elizabeth Street Garden.