HUDSON SQUARE — In a new twist in the ongoing battle over the Elizabeth Street Garden, the city is now promising to make good on a decades-old promise to turn three city-controlled vacant lots in the Village and SoHo into public parks.
The lots — one on Hudson Street between Clarkson and West Houston streets, another on Grand and Lafayette streets and the third on East Fourth Street and Bowery — were turned over to the Department of Environmental Preservation in the 1990s for work on shafts connected to the massive underground network of tunnels that supply the city's drinking water.
As a condition of DEP's taking control of the sites, agreements were struck in writing that promised that when the agency finished the work on the shafts, the lots would be turned into public parks.
But as DNAinfo New York reported late last year, DEP attempted to renege on those deals, and wanted to just leave the lots vacant and erect high fences around them.
When the city intensified its efforts to build affordable senior housing where the Elizabeth Street Garden currently sits, the local community board seized on the Hudson Street lot as an alternative site for affordable housing.
City officials have said they are considering building housing there, but in addition, not as an alternative, to Elizabeth Street.
Now the city is committing to allocate $3 million to help build three new parks on the DEP lots, $1 million per park, including a 11,250-square-foot one at Hudson and West Houston streets.
“As we continue to work to find new and creative ways to keep New York affordable and livable, this administration is committed to increasing public open space," City Hall spokeswoman Melissa Grace said. "Today, and following through on a decades old promise, we are delighted to announce we will be building three new public parks in Community Board 2.”
The commitment was first reported by The Villager.
The Hudson Street site is about 25,000 square feet, however, so the city may still build affordable housing on the remainder of the lot, Grace said.
Because DEP will continue to need access to the underground infrastructure below the lots, the parks will be for passive recreation only, Grace said — meaning no ball fields or playground equipment.
Grace said that in the event that DEP needs to access the shafts in an emergency, time would be of the essence, and DEP officials were concerned about needing to break through large or heavy structures such as playground equipment.
Under the agreements signed in the 1990s, DEP had said they would only need 4,000 square feet of the parks to remain clear of any structures so they could access the shafts.
The park at Grand and Lafayette streets will span 12,500 square feet, according to Grace, and and the East Fourth Street and Bowery site will measure 9,750 square feet.
DEP and the city's Department of Parks and Recreation will enter into a license agreement regarding the use and maintenance of the aboveground space at each site, Grace said.
The parks will be created by the Parks Department, though the $3 million in funding is being providing by DEP.
DEP has committed to working with the Parks Department and the community on the design of the spaces, Grace said, which will undergo a community review process including CB 2, the City Council representative for each site and the Public Design Commission.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission will also be involved with the site on Grand and Lafayette streets because it lies in a historic district.