CPC Holds First Public Hearing on Elizabeth Street Garden Today
As two Elizabeth Street Garden nonprofit groups turn to lawsuits to thwart redevelopment of the Little Italy oasis, the Haven Green senior affordable housing complex is proceeding to the next phase of the Uniform Land-Use Review Process (ULLURP). The controversial, 123-unit development appears before the City Planning Commission for a public hearing this morning at 10am.
The highly-publicized lawsuits filed last week contest the legality of the city’s Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS). Attorneys argue that the EAS should have determined an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) was necessary. If actions are successful, the ULURP process would be rebooted to include an EIS, a more expansive analysis on how Haven Green impacts the neighborhood.
Haven Green’s application requires a majority vote from CPC to proceed to the next step in the ULURP, a vote at City Council in June. Expect the EAS and its negation of an EIS to weigh heavily in today’s hearing where the public is invited to give testimony.
The debate over an EIS ignited the ongoing battle between housing advocates and Garden supporters back in June of 2018 when HPD rep Veanda Simmons prematurely declared that an EIS was not required for the proposal.
Garden supporters were stunned. For a pre-ULURP meeting, billed as community engagement, HPD’s opening salvo was to deny the document that would provide full disclosure of the cumulative impacts of the controversial project. It was only after Norman Siegel, attorney for Elizabeth Street Garden Inc., threatened legal action before the anxious crowd, that HPD’s Deputy Commissioner Leila Bozorg interjected and walked back Simmons’ opening statements, conceding that an EAS would determine if an EIS was necessary.
Flash-forward to November 2018, when the EAS resulted in a Negative Declaration – aka no EIS was necessary. Haven Green was officially certified, kicking off ULURP. But at this point, HPD’s initial misstep had already reinforced fears that the review process was predetermined and the public’s role futile.
When Community Board 2 held its own ULURP hearing, the only new information gleaned was the fact that Habitat NYC was seeking a zoning distinction as community facility for its 11,200 square-foot office space. The fact that their offices constitute a community facility was not mentioned at the first public engagement, where Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat NYC, described the new headquarters as follows:
“Habitat for Humanity has the opportunity to be the principal commercial tenant on the main floor … and we would have a long term role in the building, I don’t know how to answer you better than that.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s advisory role in the ULURP resulted in a Yes vote, citing affordable housing as the priority. While the approval wasn’t a surprise, her recommendation confounded both garden and Haven Green supporters as it called for an increase in “open space” without any major changes to the plan. Further, it asked that the open space be dedicated as city parkland. For a Yes vote, it appeared more like a complete indictment of the project!
CB2’s earlier resolution had already explained that Haven Green developers failed to demonstrate how to create privately-owned publicly-accessible space within the confines of the mixed-use complex, let alone parkland. No example of a public park within a private residential complex exists in New York City. CB2 has grappled with the idea of increased outdoor space, yet found that the only way to do so without significantly reducing housing would be to either increase the height of the building, or eliminate most of the commercial square-footage.
Last week, Councilwoman Margaret Chin commented that she will continue to work with Brewer, but only after the ULURP is complete. Developers for Haven Green have not yet commented on the details of Brewer’s input.
To date, it is only at the Community Board level that the public really gained any in-depth information. But what CB2’s final resolution really revealed is that the info withheld from the hearings ultimately proved more crucial to the public than what was presented.
Thus far, the land review process for Haven Green has left the garden supporters looking for real transparency and the public debating over what constitutes open space, office space, community facility, or public parkland. The debate also officially devolved into a war of words that exposes the limits of ULURP and the need for an unbiased, third-party entity to dispense information in a factual term sheet.
Garden advocates aren’t hoping for much relief from today’s hearing, but aren’t holding back either. Supporters of both Elizabeth Street Garden Inc. and Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden plan to attend in full force to contest the validity of the EAS and HPD’s assertion that the garden is “blighted.”
The meeting is at:
City Planning Commission, 10am
Sign up by 9:30am to testify
Commission Hearing Room, Lower Concourse