CB2 Holds Final Hearing Tonight on Haven Green’s Controversial Plans for Elizabeth Street Garden

Posted on: January 14th, 2019 at 5:05 am by

While Community Board 2 won’t produce a final resolution on the redevelopment of Elizabeth Street Garden until a full-board meeting scheduled for January 24, tonight’s “big meeting” before the Elizabeth Street Garden Working Group committee will offer the community its best chance to weigh in on the controversial Haven Green affordable housing project.

This time, CB2 will take center stage at the Sheen Center’s Loreto Theater (18 Bleecker) to reveal the results of four reports analyzing how the proposed mixed-use affordable housing complex would impact the neighborhood of Little Italy with regard to Land-Use, Quality of Life, Transportation, and Parks. These four subcommittee reports are in response to the Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) and represent the first real examination of Haven Green based on its merits, something developers and HPD have yet to truly encounter.

The EAS is supposed to be an accounting of how a project impacts a neighborhood on the whole; yet in this case, HPD, the city agency disposing the land (essentially the client), had full authorship of the determining document that won City Planning approval. More importantly, the EAS declared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) unnecessary. The EIS, a more extensive and lengthier examination of the proposed development, would have given CB2 the opportunity to fully vet the project.

JR’s mural to save the Elizabeth Street Garden

Even though CB2’s forthcoming final resolution is strictly advisory, it can influence elected officials as the project moves up the political chain toward a vote at City Council. Those speaking tonight will also have their testimony become part of that public record.

At the last public hearing, co-developer Dylan Salmons of Pennrose Properties reiterated to the board that Haven Green “strikes the right balance between senior affordable housing and open, green space.” However, the presentation, billed as the “final plans,” appeared to contain less information than previous public hearings. Architect Grayson Jordan seemingly forgot the below image which has come to define Haven Green in the press and social media.

“Hard Facts are hard won and the public is hungry for facts,” David Gruber, chair of the Elizabeth Street Garden Working Group

When David Gruber questioned the usage of ground-floor space as co-developer Habitat NYC’s offices, housing advocates in attendance accused him of being “anti-affordable housing.” He then reaffirmed his examination wasn’t an affront to Habitat NYC’s mission and was forced to state his long track record in pushing for affordable housing with developments in CB2.

When the Haven Green team pitched its office space as a “community facility,” architect Matthew Melody pointed to a zoning rulebook to justify this distinction. Yet, then as now, whenever questions about the proposed “publicly-accessible” park space arises, this rulebook seems to vanish.

Haven Green resists classification when it comes to its “open, green space,” but the Special Little Italy District (SLID) in which it resides provides clear-cut zoning restrictions to ensure an equitable and active open space. However, these regulations were not mentioned during Haven Green’s public design meetings. The inability to build on more than 60% of the ESG site is a requirement of SLID regulations.

Outside of SLID, the development has no governance of its “publicly-accessible space.” Developers claim “stakeholders” will have some authorship of its open, green space through participatory design meetings. And HPD insists the criteria that constitute a “publicly-accessible” space, such as hours of operation, will be borne from these meetings. However, this basic question and many others were not addressed.

In contrast, the under-construction Essex Crossing “park” at Site 5 is the result of real civic engagement between the developers and the Lower East Side community. More importantly, its public nature is the result of a Restrictive Declaration. HPD did not provide this measure in request for proposals.

The park at Site 5 of Essex Crossing, Sep 2018

Like Haven Green, Essex Crossing is also an “as of right” development on privatized city-owned land, and free from any DCP regulations. Unlike Essex Crossing, though, Haven Green has direct access and priority usage for its residents and Habitat employees. In terms of terminology, “public” indicates equality of access and usage. But this hasn’t stopped architects and HPD officials from promoting Haven Green as being “dedicated public open space.”

To date, the results of the Haven Green online survey and public design meetings together provide the community with a series of endless possibilities, many of which architects acknowledge as futile. None of which amount to any actionable plan. How developers plan to integrate public space within a private residential and office complex remains an unknown.

What is known is that Haven Green’s idea of “open, green space” hasn’t unified the neighborhood. Stakeholders haven’t rallied around the vision. And despite attacks in the media, elected officials supporting the garden haven’t run for cover.

Moreover, Haven Green doesn’t “strike a balance,” as Dylan Salmons previously stated. Rather, it strikes at the heart of what makes this neighborhood unique and communal. You can’t combat gentrification with homogenization via institutional design and luxury storefronts, all while claiming it as a “homecoming.” As co-developer and spokesperson, Habitat NYC has successfully surrounded the project with a halo-effect that deflects examination, and that uses a crisis state; it’s a page ripped straight out of the Republican playbook, to exploit the issue of affordable housing in order to justify the wholesale destruction of nature to avoid the creative challenges of urban planning. What we’re left with is political urban planning that amounts to: build now, build louder, and build anywhere and everywhere possible and emergency management that restricts oversight and civic cooperation.

Ronna Texidor standing outside 32 Waverly, June 2018

If Haven Green succeeds, it will be the product of a divide-and-conquer strategy perfected by Councilwoman Margaret Chin and now adopted by HPD and the developers.

Haven Green has no predecessor; it’s an unprecedented project that isn’t so much “unique” as it is experimental with implications far beyond ESG and Little Italy. If the Community Board doesn’t step in to help define what “public space” means in this city, then the “Haven Green” will define it for us.

This project deserves real scrutiny. Garden advocates and residents deserve answers to their questions.

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