‘POPS’ Goes the Elizabeth Street Garden

Posted on: September 5th, 2018 at 5:00 am by

Developers behind the controversial Elizabeth Street Garden affordable housing project are going straight to the public with their plans. Now, area locals will have another chance to interact with Haven Green, the proposed seven-story, “deeply affordable” senior housing development and its Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) that together replace the garden.

Pennrose Properties, Habitat for Humanity NYC and RiseBoro are hosting two “participatory design meetings” this month – tonight, 273 Bowery, 6:30pm; and September 15, 273 Bowery, 1:30pm. When the real estate consortium last met the neighbors at an informational Community Board 2 meeting a few months ago, it rapidly deteriorated into a philosophical debate and attendees were left to untangle facts from rhetoric and hyperbole.

Since then, the developers pledged to increase community outreach to “ensure the spirit and magic of the existing space be carried forward.” And for that challenge, Haven Green opened up the entire public space for a broad array of community input. Team Haven Green also delivered on its promise to the community in launching an anonymous online survey, the first stage in its participatory design process. Still unclear, however, is whether the data from this collection will be transparent and publicly available.

Haven Green believes direct input from the community will provide “guidance” to the design team. Habitat NYC, acting as spokesperson for the development, went so far as to describe community members as “experts in how the space should look, feel and operate.” CB2 reacted with concern that, in going direct to the public ahead of the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), developers may be putting the cart before the horse.

March 2017, Photo: Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden

“A garden design process could not result in any final sizes, uses, materials, etc. in the absence of knowing the final land-use disposition including ULURP-approved size of the lot, coverage, building positioning and other vital decisions yet to be made,” the advisory body wrote in a statement to Haven Green.

A Haven Green spokesperson countered by acknowledging and accepting that risk.

Technical land use issues aside, the real risk is whether soliciting public collaboration is premature prior to the decision of whether permits for the public space should be sought from Department of City Planning (DCP). A decision that could affect a whole host of structural issues with the public space as well as the exterior of the building.

Still unclear is whether the proposed privately owned public space is an “as-of-right” POPS development and thereby free of the standards and regulations that govern most POPS in the city. (Over 500 of which exist.) To date, Haven Green has not verified the designation of its POPS, and in statements to Bowery Boogie, only confirmed that “DCP would be part of the process.”

But as CB2 concluded, the ULURP process isn’t complete and its results could change many of the land uses. After the ULURP, the community could potentially mandate that Haven Green follow DCP zoning regulations.

Gale Brewer, in a letter to HPD Commissioner Vicki Benson in 2016 (below), criticized the original HPD proposal on this issue, stating that the project “… does not ensure permanency of the publically-accessible open space in perpetuity nor does is prioritize community-driven design process to ensure that the community will have open space in perpetuity at this site.” Brewer went on to request that HPD commit this space as New York City Parkland.

Moreover, Brewer’s comments underscore the point that HPD, in its origination of the project, did not go far enough to protect the public’s interest in the open space, despite claiming it as a “win-win for the community.” Therefore, in the absence of an objective city agency providing oversight and zoning regulations, those participating in the Haven Green design meetings will be relying on the promises of a private corporation and the best intentions of nonprofits to ensure their vision for the “garden” is adhered to.

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