The Elizabeth Street Garden in the SOHO and Little Italy neighborhoods has been known to bring peace and be a place for people to gather for events since the 1800s is now going to be torn down and replaced with 123 affordable apartments for the elderly, the state appellate court decided on Tuesday, June 27. The garden has outdoor space where residents can do yoga, watch movies, attend poetry readings, watch shows or just walk around the space. It has been used by residents of Soho and Nolita for years. Local residents and garden officials who have petitioned for saving the garden since 2013, were very disappointed with this decision.
The space is set to turn into 123 apartments for lower-income senior citizens.
The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development review found that the new housing would not negatively impact parkland was “arbitrary and capricious,” petitioners say. New York State Supreme Court justices rejected the residents arguments as “unavailing,” it is written in court documents.
Residents won round one last November, but the court of appeals overturned that with the June 27th ruling.
“The fight isn’t over, and we continue to seek a solution that achieves more of the needed housing while preserving Elizabeth Street Garden for the community,” Joseph Reiver, executive director of Elizabeth Street Garden, a non-profit that manages the upkeep of the land, said in a statement. Reiver has been part of the fight to save the garden for many years and filed a lawsuit to the United States Supreme Court in 2019. Now, Reiver is applying for the Court of Appeals to appeal the current decision.
“There are many solutions that don’t come at the expense of community green spaces and that involve the empty lots, office space, and empty hotel conversions, that involves working with the rent stabilized apartments that are kept off the market,” Reiver said.
Reiver agreed there is a shortage of affordable housing for the elderly but also a shortage of green spaces in New York City. However, the way of tackling the affordable housing problem should not be at the expense of demolishing the few green spaces left in New York City, residents say.
“I love this space; I think it is the one green space that is in downtown so it’s really upsetting to hear the court making this decision. I feel that there’s so many empty lots that could be utilized to be making affordable housing,” Valentine Sargent, a Little Italy resident who has been visiting the garden frequently for a year said.
Hannah Waltz, a Little Italy resident sitting next to Sargent pointed to the environmental concern of the court decision. “Especially in a time when we are all super conscious of the detrimental effects of climate change, taking away this space seems backwards,” Waltz said. “Even though there needs to be more affordable housing for elders there’s so many other areas that aren’t giving folks this respite from the concrete jungle that we are in.”
The garden has also been a good space for those with disabilities. Past resident of New York, Lulu Lee enjoys coming to the garden every year. “It’s a beautiful space for people to enjoy, a green space. It’s a nice and relaxing space with nature, the city and dogs walking by,” Lulu Lee said translated from a American Sign Language (ASL) translator who is a family member.
On the flip side, Adolfo Carrión, the city’s housing commissioner called the court’s decision “a huge win for all New Yorkers,” Carrión stated. “We look forward to delivering these 123 new, affordable, LGBTQ+ friendly homes for older New Yorkers, and we will continue advancing projects in every corner of the city to tackle the severe housing shortage driving this affordable housing crisis.”
The loss of the public outdoor space would be partially offset by a new .15-acre space next to the building open later and more regularly than the garden, the court agreed with the city.
“Added population of senior adults likely would not overburden existing mostly active open spaces,” the court added and said that Washington Square Park which is a 15 minute walk away in Greenwich Village “would help mitigate the neighborhood’s preexisting open space deficiency.”
Proponents of the projects note that developers plan to keep 6,600 square acres of the site as an outdoor garden, as reported by the NYT.
But Reiver says that wouldn’t be same as the garden that stands today. “They mis-convey to the public that they’re maintaining or preserving a part of the green space — that’s not true. They’re going to demolish the whole thing and build their privately owned public space,” Reiver said. “The developers are not going to create anything like that no matter what kind of compromise they envision.”
“The fight isn’t over, and we continue to seek a solution that achieves more of the needed housing while preserving Elizabeth Street Garden for the community,” Joseph Reiver, executive director of Elizabeth Street Garden said.
“Especially in a time when we are all super conscious of the detrimental effects of climate change, taking away this space seems backwards,” Hannah Waltz, a Little Italy resident said. “Even though there needs to be more affordable housing for elders there’s so many other areas that aren’t giving folks this respite from the concrete jungle that we are in.”