The Elizabeth Street Garden and the Battle of the Nonprofit Prophets
From the outset of Monday night’s Community Board 2 hearing on the Elizabeth Street Garden, it was immediately clear that the City had successfully pitted green, environmental advocates against those in support of affordable housing, senior citizens, and the homeless.
What follows are just some of the more memorable quotes and takeaways regarding the Pennrose Properties plan to redevelop Elizabeth Street Garden into a mixed-use affordable housing complex in the Little Italy Special District. The room was certainly divided.
The opening remarks from Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat for Humanity NYC, foreshadowed the night – “Unfortunately, the growing scarcity of public land has pitted potential allies, open space advocates, and housing advocates against each other.”
“Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was very thoughtful and deliberate in requiring that the development team submit a meaningful balance of affordable housing and open, green space.”
-Veanda Simmons, Director of Manhattan Planning, Division of HPD
“You’re gonna go through with this; make my day – We’ll meet you in court!”
-Norman Siegel, attorney for ESG, on challenging Simmons’ official statement that no Environmental Impact Statement would be required for this development
“We reject this binary conception of either or, it must be both. The City’s need for affordable housing must be balanced with the need for open green space, this is especially true when it comes to our senior population.”
-Karen Haycox, speaking on behalf Pennrose Properties and RiseBoro, making the case for compromise as the only solution in her opening remarks.
“This development will destroy the garden. This is the garden 100% saved or 100% destroyed, this is not a compromise.”
-Jeannine Kiely, President of Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden (FESG), while pointing to before and after renderings of the garden site. Keily also pointed to a Pennrose rendering calling it deceptive in enlarging the look of the outdoor space. Kiely went on to claim that the Haven Green compromise has no concessions since zoning in the Special Little Italy District prevents building on more than 60% of the garden site.
“Why are we here when right within the same boundaries of the same community board there lies a gravel-strewn lot … that would give our seniors five times more housing? We already have our haven, we already have our green. The soul of our neighborhood – Elizabeth Street Garden!”
-Emily Helstrom, mother of two and outspoken volunteer for FESG.
“We have a simple solution; we are going to continue to fight for that solution. Use the alternative space and solve the problem, it’s simple, it’s simple.”
-Joseph Reiver, president of ESG, making clear that the debate seemed more of a distraction than an actual attempt at solving an affordable housing issue.
“If there’s no garden there, I’m going to fucking plant one myself!”
-Kathleen Webster, member of Community Board 3, was in the audience in fervent support of the housing redevelopment and gave this threat to anyone who was doubtful that the Haven Green will follow through with its plans for a lush, green outdoor space.
“You continue to use the word ‘preserve’; do you know what the word preserve means? The definition of the word preserve is to maintain something in its original or existing state.”
-Pete Davies from the Broadway Residents Coalition, claiming that Haven Green and its supporters have co-opted and manipulated the word “preserve” in their statement and PR publications.
“Senior Housing and affordable housing is worth more to me than a half-a-year’s worth of accessibility to the garden.”
-Eric Diaz, who represented himself as having worked with University Settlement.
“There is no space left. There’s no space to build on in New York City that isn’t contested.”
-Paul Nagel, Executive Director of Stonewall Community Development, an LGBT senior housing organization.
“This is not a development – it’s a land grab!”
-Georgette Fleischer’s heartfelt plea not to pave over Elizabeth Street Garden for the sake of her 7-week-old daughter.