Board & Squadron back Elizabeth Garden

Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky. Tobi Bergman, Community Board 2’s chairperson, is pushing for an alternative housing site to save the Elizabeth St. Garden.

Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky.
Tobi Bergman, Community Board 2’s chairperson, is pushing for an alternative housing site to save the Elizabeth St. Garden.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  Another local politician is now urging that an application for federal funding for an affordable housing project proposed for the Elizabeth St. Garden be denied.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron last week wrote Joseph Chan, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, calling on the state-city authority to deny the $6 million grant.

Instead, Squadron — whose district includes the highly popular garden — said, the city should work with Community Board 2 to find “an appropriate location” for the housing — one that won’t destroy the green oasis.

C.B. 2 is on record — twice now — strongly supporting the permanent preservation of the garden in open-space-starved Little Italy.

The board’s latest resolution urged the corporation to “adhere to its own guidelines” and not fund “a project that has not even been presented to the community, much less demonstrated a ‘high level of community interest and support.’ ”

The city’s Department of Housing and Development, however, hopes to use the L.M.D.C. money to help build from 60 to 100 units of senior affordable housing on the garden, at Elizabeth St. between Spring and Prince Sts. The L.M.D.C. funds would finance about one-fourth of the project’s cost.

“Open space and affordable housing are both urgent needs for communities throughout Lower Manhattan,” Squadron wrote Chan. “The city should work with C.B. 2 and ensure these affordable senior units are built in an appropriate location within C.B. 2.”

Councilmember Margaret Chin — whose district also contains the garden — is the housing project’s main sponsor. She and the Bloomberg administration quietly earmarked the garden site for affordable housing in 2012 — yet without first notifying C.B. 2 — as an “add-on” to the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area development. Yet the SPURA project is located in C.B. 3 not C.B. 2, and underwent years of painstaking review by C.B. 3 and local stakeholder groups until, after tremendous political effort, a consensus was finally reached, in sharp contrast to the Elizabeth St. Garden project.

However, three weeks ago, at an L.M.D.C. hearing on the funding application, much to Chin’s chagrin, yet another Downtown politician, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, forcefully argued against allowing housing there, saying the development should instead be shifted to an alternative city-owned site that C.B. 2 Chairperson Tobi Bergman has identified at Hudson and Clarkson Sts.

Glick added that the Hudson Square site is larger, so could hold even more units of affordable housing.

The garden is just outside Glick’s district by a block but her constituents include garden users.

H.P.D. has shown no signs of reconsidering the plan.

Bergman has been taken aback by the cold shoulder. He said Mayor de Blasio could achieve a democratic win-win solution, by preserving the garden while building even more affordable housing on the expansive West Side site.

A week earlier at a Board 2 meeting, Bergman said, “You can’t run over people in one area and then expect them to lie down on the tracks in another area,” adding later that there are other potential housing sites, but “it will be hard to build support for affordable housing projects when people are angry about another affordable housing project that would be harmful to the community.”

Dan Ballen, one of the few C.B. 2 members who supports the city plan, said “the alternative sites are a red herring,” and trying to shift the housing project’s location would be impractical in the “morass of city agencies.”

According to Chin, L.M.D.C. will make its decision on the funding application sometime this month. However, David Emil, the agency’s president, said, “The process has a lot of steps. It is our hope that funds will be available [for the selected projects] by first or second quarter of 2016.”

Emil indicated that the L.M.D.C. board may next meet in November. There will also be a 30-day public comment period for the applications that L.M.D.C. approves for funding, he said.

The $50 million is from a legal settlement with the demolition contractor on the former Deutsche Bank building, where two firefighters were killed in a 2007 blaze. 

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