After Six Years of Debates, CB2 Tenders Final Denial of ‘Haven Green’ at Elizabeth Street Garden

Posted on: January 28th, 2019 at 9:09 am by

The longstanding debate over redevelopment of the Elizabeth Street Garden (ESG) concluded its tenure in the Community Board system last Thursday night with an unequivocal denial by the full board. While strictly advisory in nature, this judgment represents an important, yet somber, victory for garden faithful who have rallied with local elected officials for the last six years to fight the Haven Green redevelopment.

(Parks Department statistics show that Little Italy is one of the most underserved by open space in the city.)

Concern for the city’s senior population weighed heavy on the panel as it voted to preserve the site in its entirety. As did the proposed compromise of building this affordable housing on an alternative West Side parcel. Both sides clashed in another round of two-minute testimonies in a final attempt to sway the Board; and both sides believe that seniors are unnecessarily ensnared in a debate over how to create and preserve affordable housing and community green space.

CB2 in the end released a robust resolution that meticulously outlines all its issues with the Haven Green development. The main thrust of the denial hinged on the developer’s purported failure to follow instructions, as it were. That Haven Green developers Pennrose Properties and Habitat NYC did not meet the goals stated in HPD’s original Request for Proposals, which sought a replication of the natural elements and the public programing that the garden currently provides to the community.

The resolution also highlights how the proposal “falsely attempted to classify the Breezeway
(a covered building entrance) as open space.” Moreover, CB2’s analysis accounted for 6,700 square-feet of Privately-Owned Publicly-Accessible Open Space, not the 8,000 square-feet developers have promoted and previously testified at public meetings. CB2 also categorized Haven Green’s open space as a “shaded open space” due to the imposing t-shape shadows cast onto the garden by the seven-story development.

CB2 then challenged the validity of architects’ renderings, stating that, among other things, the illustrations do not depict ADA-compliant pathways, which would diminish the grassy look of the proposed outdoor space.

The board further questioned whether earmarking 11,000 square-feet of onsite office space for co-developer Habitat NYC is the best use of land, as it diminishes the potential for increased open space.

One of the biggest reveals from the resolution, though, is that HPD has designated the ESG site as an Urban Development Action Area (UDAAP). In layman’s terms – that the garden site is “blighted” and Haven Green would be an “urban renewal effort” that could garner tax breaks.

However, it does not appear that defeat at the Community Board level has inspired any concessions from Haven Green.

“We are confident that Haven Green will receive a fair and ultimately positive review through the remainder of the land use process,” the public relations team stated an hour after the resolution hit. “It’ll result in the creation of both a home for 123 low-income seniors and publicly-accessible green space.”

With Haven Green on the fast-track to a game-ending City Council vote, garden advocates now turn to the combined legal team of Norman Siegel and Michael Gruen representing both nonprofits ESG Inc. and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden. The two attorneys boast a proven track record of going up against big developments in the city over environmental concerns.

Attorney Norman Siegel at the mic with Michael Gruen waiting in the wings to speak at CB2

Whichever side wins, CB2 memorialized the history of the land-deal in its resolution. Most significantly that Haven Green is a byproduct of Councilmember Chin, who used the open space as bargaining tactic during SPURA planning for Essex Crossing (in Community Board 3). At the time, CB2 was locked out of the process and the neighborhood caught by surprise. There has since been no communication between Chin and the Board’s Elizabeth Street Garden Working Group.

Perhaps this advisory denial will, if not sway elected officials, at least correct misconceptions about the proposed Haven Green project. The issue now moves into the hands of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for a more weighted advisory vote. Joe Reiver, Executive Director of ESG Inc., plans to urge her office to hold another public hearing so garden advocates can expand on the criticisms outlined in CB2’s resolution.

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