New York Daily News – Project to convert Nolita garden into low-cost housing going forward despite opposition

Project to convert Nolita garden into low-cost housing going forward despite opposition
A rendering shows plans for a new development of senior affordable housing and open space at the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden. (Courtesy of Curtis + Ginsberg Architects)


The city plans to move ahead with plans for affordable housing for seniors on the site of the Elizabeth Street Garden in Nolita.

The project calls for 121 units of residences with 7,600 square feet of open space.

“I think it’s a win-win situation for all of us, because we are now getting a lot of units — 121 units of affordable senior housing — and a beautiful open green space,” Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the area, told the Daily News.

Plans to turn the site into housing have been fought bitterly by the neighborhood’s community board, residents, civic groups and political clubs — becoming a hot topic at a town hall discussion Chin and Mayor de Blasio held in the district, and a major issue in a close Democratic primary race that Chin ultimately won.

Community Board 2 Chairwoman Terri Cude said the neighborhood needs affordable housing — but it should be built elsewhere, because it also needs the garden.

“Affordability should never be pitted against livability,” she said Thursday night, after seeing outlines of the city’s proposal.

The development, dubbed Haven Green, will be permanently affordable and open to seniors earning between $20,040 and $40,080 a year. Rents will range from about $331 to $761, based on incomes, according to early estimates. Thirty-seven units will be set aside for formerly homeless seniors.

The green space, which is smaller than the existing garden, will be maintained as a privately owned public space that will include lawns, plantings, gardening areas and open seating, the city said. Its development will feature a participatory design process open to the community.

The Mott St. side of the property will remain open, with the public space visible from the street. It will also be accessible from the Elizabeth St. side, via an open passageway through the building. Cude said that’s a problem because Elizabeth St. is the busier area.

“It doesn’t feel like it belongs to the community,” she said. “Street-side open space works because you see it and it engages you as we walk past.”

The community board and other local groups have said a better spot for senior housing would be nearby on Hudson St., where they’d approve a vacant lot being turned into housing if Elizabeth Street Garden is saved.

“We will not back down and allow real estate developers and elected officials to ignore us any longer,” said Jeannine Kiely, president of Friends of Elizabeth Street Garden.

“Council Member Chin has turned a deaf ear to her constituents, who overwhelmingly support saving Elizabeth Street Garden. It is a crime to develop this site when a better alternative exists. Unfortunately, the administration is once again stubbornly allowing politics to determine policy, despite receiving 5,500 community letters in support of saving the Garden and despite Manhattan Community Board 2’s support for an alternative site at Hudson and Clarkson streets that can provide up to five times as much affordable housing.”

City officials said the combination of housing and green space was a victory.

“As public land grows more scarce in New York City, we see each remaining site as an opportunity to meet as many of the urgent needs and priorities of communities as possible,” Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer said in a statement. “The selected development proposal strikes a balance between the desperate need for affordable senior housing and dedicated public open space, making this a win-win for the neighborhood.”

Chin said she hoped those who opposed the project would come around.

“We invite them to come in and work with us to create this beautiful space that everyone in our community, the whole entire community, will be able to share,” she said.

The development comes as the city grapples with a severe shortage of senior housing — advocacy group LiveON NY has previously estimated that some 200,000 seniors are on wait lists for affordable units. It also comes as de Blasio has increased his target number of affordable units to save or preserve in a decade to 300,000 from 200,000.

“We’re finally talking about getting housing for our most vulnerable and our needy seniors,” Chin said.

The project is being developed by Pennrose Properties, Habitat for Humanity NYC — which will locate its headquarters there — and RiseBoro, the non-profit formerly known as the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council.

SAGE, an organization that serves LGBT seniors, will also have offices and provide services on-site.

The project will require input and approval through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — but Chin’s support as the local council member all but assures its passage.