Patti Smith Rallies with Supporters for Elizabeth Street Garden as City Terminates Lease
The legal and political battle to save Elizabeth Street Garden from redevelopment intensified last week as the city sent the beloved urban oasis in Little Italy a notice terminating its month-to-month lease at the end of October. News of the potential eviction broke over social media in the midst of garden plans to host a Climate Week block party event with the Pathway to Paris organization.
Yet, despite the looming eviction, garden activists immediately responded with a call to action online and held the pre-planned event on Saturday as well as a rally yesterday afternoon.
Their efforts gained a significant boost from an uplifting performance by legendary singer/songwriter Patti Smith on Saturday, who performed “People Have The Power” as part of the day-long block party raising awareness for climate change. She was joined by longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye, daughter Jesse Paris Smith, Strokes guitarist Nikolai Fraiture, Acapella Soul, and DJ Jonathan Toubin, with hundreds in attendance.
Turnout for the Sunday rally drew similar numbers, where Joe Reiver and attorney Norman Siegel together outlined plans to defend against what they called the “city’s plan to circumvent the legal system.”
ESG Inc, the non-profit community group operating the garden, received a letter from the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) on September 20 notifying the garden to vacate the site by October 31. Joe Reiver, described the move by HPD as an “end run around the legal process.”
Attorneys for the garden responded with a letter to the judge currently presiding over the now two-year court case. The demand is to adhere to the terms they say are clearly listed in a stipulation where the city agreed not to terminate or modify the existing lease until at least 14 days after any final decision by the court.
In speaking to supporters, Reiver reiterated that the choice between housing and environment was a false choice. Reiver also noted that the city wanted the community divided in order to take advantage.
Norman Siegel said that the recent flash floods from tropical storm Ida reminds us how important green space is in a city that is covered by 75% asphalt and concrete. Siegel echoed the words of Patti Smith by saying “power to the people” in his closing remarks.
In speaking at yesterday’s rally, State Senator Brad Hoylman said that, while he didn’t represent the block, he does represent the surrounding neighborhood, and stressed how the unique green space benefits all of Lower Manhattan and the entire city.
Hoylman’s comments were echoed by Democratic nominee for city council in the district, Chris Marte, who after leading the crowd in a “save our garden” chant, went on to say that, “no matter where you live the city, you know ESG, you know the magic of this space … This is a magical space.”
Marte’s speech also reminded supporters that there were only 97 days left until a new administration takes office at City Hall, and a new City Council is seated. Marte pledged his support and urged others to continue to fight the nine-year long battle for preservation.
Councilmember Chin spearheaded the plan for senior affordable housing on the garden site during the Bloomberg administration. Now known as Haven Green, the 7-story mixed-use affordable housing complex will also house commercial office space and retail storefronts along Elizabeth Street. And while the development was touted as a dual purpose green space and housing, the 6,700 square-feet of open, green land is largely a product of the existing Special Little Italy District zoning laws, not any concession from developers.
Despite last-minute changes merge the remaining green space with the the courtyard of the neighboring building, the plan still represents a net loss of open land in the neighborhood. And the agreement between the two private property owners, struck outside of the city’s mandated public review process, still has many hurdles, and no clear path forward.
Facing a Halloween date with destiny, Reiver and supporters – including Community Board 2, which backed the initial plan to preserve the garden and create senior affordable housing on a nearby Hudson Street site – fear the city will seek to gain possession and destroy the garden regardless of the legal outcome.
To this, ESG is asking supporters to send letters to HPD demanding they rescind the notice of lease termination through a portal on its website as well as sign up for text alerts so that they can be immediately notified of any “emergency actions or updates.” So far, at least 16,000 people have sent letters to the ESG online portal to demand that HPD rescind the lease termination.
It appears the nine-year-long battle to preserve the garden now hinges on a very complex court case. But supporters appear ready to take the fight to the next level.