Elizabeth Street Garden and the ‘Halo Effect’ of Haven Green Redevelopment [OP-ED]
The debate rages over open space versus affordable housing in Little Italy.The following editorial regarding the fight for Elizabeth Street Garden was written and submitted by Little Italy native, Eddie Panta.
Garden advocates aren’t backing down from their fight to save Elizabeth Street Garden from redevelopment, even if it means being pitted against other non-profits.
Pennrose Properties, the company that HPD chose to redevelop the garden site, has successfully projected what public relations professionals refer to as a “halo effect” around the entire project by enlisting non-profits Habitat for Humanity, SAGE, and RiseBoro, as co-developers.
Non-profit organizations on both sides of the battle between affordable housing and open, green space are set to face-off at tonight’s Community Board 2 meeting. Pennrose Properties is scheduled to display a PowerPoint presentation to unveil Haven Green – an affordable housing and commercial retail complex to be built on Elizabeth Street Garden in Little Italy.
The Haven Green team hopes to impress local residents and community board members with what they consider to be a “win-win compromise” – a seven story, 121-unit, affordable housing complex aimed at seniors that preserves 30% of the original public outdoor space and is both environmentally conscious and energy-efficient.
Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden (FESG) has already gone on record with newsletters that describes the only real “win-win compromise” as moving the development to a CB2-approved alternative site (on the west side) that would provide five times more affordable units than the Elizabeth Street Garden site would.
Opponents of the development describe the Haven Green garden proposal as little more than an amenity space, desperately lacking in sunlight, and barely meeting the minimum HPD requirements for outdoor, public space.
As co-developer, Habitat for Humanity, will take the lead role in community outreach in order to promote Penrose’s version of the garden and has already extended the proverbial olive branch to FESG and ESG, the two non-profits who have been protecting the garden, by offering them an influential role as collaborators in the final design and usage on a portion of the 7,000 square-foot outdoor space that will remain open to the public. Neither of the garden protectors has wavered from their original goal – save the garden in its entirety as green, open space in an overly developed and heavily trafficked neighborhood.
Garden advocates are ready to argue that a mixed-use compromise on city-owned lots is not always the right choice and that for Elizabeth Street Garden, it’s a “false choice” since better-suited sites exist.
If the development is approved, Habitat will take up residence at Haven Green in the form of office space along with SAGE, a non-profit with a proven track record in assisting LGBTQ elders with obtaining affordable housing. If Habitat for Humanity wants to move their headquarters from downtown Manhattan to the garden site, they may need to convince locals that they have long term goals in the community.
Residents and small-business owners have already been questioning this move since office space was never part of initial plan Councilwoman Chin and Mayor de Blasio originally proposed when they proclaimed the city desperately needed affordable housing everywhere and anywhere possible.
So far, the Mayor and Councilwoman Chin have only been practicing their urban planning theory of “build affordable housing everywhere possible” on Elizabeth Street. A high-end retail district that developers find attractive. Some residents even fear Habitat could simply be a place-holder tenant, meant to shepard in a controversial housing and retail complex.
In light of the ongoing Rivington House scandal, Pennrose and the City can’t blame locals for being skeptical of any nonprofit’s city-subsidized real estate dealings, even one as reputable a Habitat for Humanity.
Residents will also be looking for more specifies regarding the exact use and size of the three retail storefronts facing Elizabeth Street. Pennrose has pre-designated the smallest, most southern space as a café, but as of yet has not released any statement or promoted the storefronts in the press.
CB2 has confirmed that questions regarding exact office lease terms, how potential retailers are chosen, and whether commercial profits will be disclosed, are all valid and legitimate questions at the meeting.
The fate of Elizabeth Street Garden won’t be decided at tonight’s CB2 meeting, but advocates on both sides of the debate are urging their supporters to attend the meeting which should provide fertile ground for discussions over how non-profit organizations, regardless of the groups it advocates for, considers the impact they and their projects have on the community as a whole.
Anticipating a large crowd, David Gruber, chair of CB2’s Elizabeth Street Garden Working Group, changed the meeting place to a larger room. The meeting will now take place in Rm. 408 at the NYU Silver Bldg., 32 Waverly Pl. at 6:30pm on Mon. June 25th.