Councilwoman Chin’s Open Space Game as Haven Green Goes to City Council Vote Today
While the fate of Elizabeth Street Garden will ultimately be decided in the courts, today’s City Council vote on the Haven Green affordable housing project set to rise on the Garden marks the final chapter in the city’s Uniform Land-Use Process (ULURP). Garden advocates fear the vote will be another rubber-stamp action by the City that they believe has ignored recommendations of Community Board 2.
At the last City Council hearing, Councilmember Chin left constituents with the hope that the proposed green space on the garden site would be “mapped as parkland,” and that the developers (Pennrose Prosperities, Habitat NYC, Riseboro) would consider incorporating the office space patio, which doubles as a community meeting room, into the publicly-accessible outdoor space. But since then, no new details have emerged on whether the Parks Depaetment will play a role to ensure equality of use or that any conversion of office space is afoot.
Instead, developers and HPD have devised a new plan to annex their potential next door neighbor’s courtyard – the Little Italy Restoration Association (LIRA) – into the publicly-accessible open space of the Haven Green development.
While the preexisting 14,000 square-foot LIRA courtyard may more than double the size of the proposed open, green space, there’s still little net gain to the neighborhood at large. In fact, the development still constitutes a net loss of open space in Little Italy, which is one of the most underserved in the city.
But the the deal struck between DeMatteis (owner of LIRA), HPD, and Haven Green developers, to conjoin their open spaces won’t be decided by today’s vote, as LIRA is not part of the ULURP application before City Council today. Details on this arrangement, such as the impact on ground floor apartments facing the courtyard, have yet to be determined. Another part of this deal is that DeMatteis will extend affordability of LIRA apartments, soon set to expire. But what, if anything, the landlord is getting out of the deal remains unknown.
Without Parks in the mix, there is no assurance that Haven Green developers will create and maintain an equitable public space. The factors that determine the true public nature of the open space will remain undefined until the formalization of a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) between developers and HPD. But for now, it appears that City Council will vote without this legal document, which outlines hours of operation, public signage, and the amount of seating. HPD, which does not currently field complaints for open space, would be the only city agency with oversite.
Until now, Councilmember Chin has seemingly avoided any details or street-level realties related to the open space component of Haven Green, leaving co-developer Habitat NYC and HPD to shoulder the controversial land deal. However, Chin did – without mentioning the Garden – affirm her commitment to Parks and Green Space in District 1 in a December 2018 newsletter which listed funding in support of the “re-envisioning” of the open space at Rafael Hernandez NYCHA housing on Allen Street.
The saddest part of the poorly designed open space at this public housing development is that none of the benches face each other, creating a bleak and uninviting environment in desperate need of improvement.
Yet six months later, the NYCHA courtyard space, which is neither a park nor very “green,” appears in worse shape than ever, precisely because of construction. To date, the only improvement at the corner of Allen and Stanton Streets was the replacement of four lampposts (and wiring) that left the already cracking concrete even more scarred.
Councilmember Chin’s attempt to mitigate the loss of the Elizabeth Street Garden by outlining her funding for other open space in the Lower East Side appears a purely political gesture. And although the open space at Rafael Hernandez Houses may be spared from the privatized infill development other NYCHA complexes are facing, it might be more expensive to work around these new lampposts. For now, Chin’s success in “supporting” open space in the neighborhood remains as uncertain as her freethrow.
Expect the battle of the nonprofits – housing versus open, green space – to rage on. Even if City Council votes YES on Haven Green today, and Mayor de Blasio signs off on the deal. The matter of Lot 220, also known as Elizabeth Street Garden, goes before the courts this fall thanks to a pair of lawsuits.