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Editorial: Now’s the time to save the Elizabeth Street Garden

State Supreme Court Justice Debra A. James has ruled that the negative declaration New York City issued three years ago on the need for an environmental impact study for a housing project at the Elizabeth Street Garden is “vacated and annulled.”

This is great, welcome news — and long overdue. The Elizabeth Street Garden group and its supporters — including, notably, Community Board 2 and the area’s politicians — have maintained all along that the loss of the Little Italy refuge — 20,000 square feet of gorgeous, landscaped green space, with engaging, well-curated programming — would profoundly impact the community.

In short, this part of Downtown Manhattan is sorely underserved in terms of open green space — and that is one reason why the impact of the garden’s potential loss must be studied fully and exhaustively, as required by environmental law.

From left, Joseph Reiver, the executive director of the Elizabeth Street Garden, along with the garden’s attorneys, Norman Siegel and Goutam Jois. (ESG)

With this decision, the plaintiffs now hope Mayor Adams and Adolfo Carrion, the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, will meet with them, so the issue can be resolved in a way that both preserves the garden, yet also achieves even more affordable housing at existing alternative sites — including 388 Hudson St. — sites identified primarily by C.B. 2.

Under the city’s Haven Green plan, a seven-story building with just 123 units of affordable senior housing would be constructed on the garden. Yet, shifting the project to the cityowned lot at Hudson and Clarkson Streets — a site that must remain partially open, so the Department of Environmental Protection can access a water shaft that connects to the Third City Water Tunnel — could mean creating 350 to 500 affordable units, or three to four times what Elizabeth Street could support. The city has already said it will build some housing at Hudson Street, but the site can clearly take much more.

Another identified alternative site is the federally owned garage on Howard St. We hear Councilmember Christopher Marte — who strongly supports the garden — may soon announce another potential site in his District 1.

The well-funded garden also has a proposal to run the space as a conservation land trust in perpetuity — at zero cost to the city.

Basically, James’s decision is now a chance for a “reset.” Haven Green’s two staunchest supporters, Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Margaret Chin, are now both out of office due to term limits.

Let’s not forget the highly improper and stealth manner in which the project was originally snuck in  — with Community Board 2 only receiving an after-the-fact notification that the garden had already been designated for destruction.

Attorney Norman Siegel rallying the Elizabeth Street Garden’s supporters on Nov. 2 amid the treasured open space’s colorful fall foliage. (ESG)

In September, the garden held a benefit concert for Christina Yuna Lee, the 35-year-old woman who was brutally killed in her Chrystie Street apartment this past February in a crime that horrified New Yorkers.

A GoFundMe memorial fund in Lee’s name has raised $430,000. It’s telling to look at what causes the fund supports: the Prospect Park Alliance (Lee’s favorite park); Womankind, originally New York Asian Women’s Center, serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking; Planned Parenthood; SafeWalks, a group focused on female straphanger safety; and Elizabeth Street Garden.

“Christina believed in the power of green and open spaces as opportunities for self-realization and exploration,” the fund’s page says. “Elizabeth Street Garden was one of her favorite places in New York — she often went there to read, sketch, listen to music and hear poetry. It was her personal oasis in the middle of the city.”

That sums up exactly how many feel about this unique place.

Yes, the expected thing would be for the city to appeal this latest ruling. However, Mr. Mayor, you appreciate beauty, community, positivity, the importance of green open space. We all know there’s a better solution. Be the one to make it happen — in a win-win for everyone.


  1. Valerio Orselli Valerio Orselli November 6, 2022

    I am absolutely appalled by your editorial piece glorifying an egregiously wrong legal decision that has prioritized a Potemkin Village garden (with sculptures on loan from the local gallery owner) over desperately needed 100% affordable housing for extremely low-income seniors, including 30% formerly homeless seniors, with comprehensive services for LGBTQ seniors.

    Yes, it may be “just 123 apartments” but these are a lot more low-income units than were constructed in the last 30 or 40 years in what used to be Little Italy, a poor and working-class neighborhood when I lived there. Now it is part of NOHO/SOHO. In fact, the last large-scale, low-income project was being built when I was stil living there on Mott Street in the 1970s.

    Yes, there is a lack of green space in Little Italy but the Liz Christy Garden is only a few blocks away and Sarah Roosevelt Park extends from Houston Street to Canal Street. You also neglect to mention that the garden was not opened to the public, and became a garden only after the art gallery owner was notified by the City of their plans to terminate his month-to-month lease on the property to build low-income housing. You also fail to note that when the attorneys for the garden came to make a presentation to Community Board 2, they emphasized the negative impact that the low-income housing would have on local property values.

    Any “alternate site” that coud be identified for the housing should be an additional site for housing. As you surely, know developable land in Manhatan is very scarce. Trees and flowers are truly beautiful and a valuable asset to any community. But seniors need a roof over their heads and a working elevator so they don’t have to walk up or down six flights of stairs.

    If I were to list all organizations that have endorsed the Habitat for Humanity project, this reply would extend to one or more pages, so I will just name a few: Cooper Square Committee, the Association for Neighborhood Housing Developers (ANHD), Housing Works, Henry Street Settlement, University Settlement, SAGE USA, Sara Roosevelt Park Coalition, etc.

    Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. It doesn’t hurt your newspaper to try to be a little bit more fair.

  2. Susan Freel Susan Freel November 3, 2022

    388 Hudson was designated as parkland to be conjoined with the existing ballpark and walk-through across Clarkson Street as a community teaching garden with an adjoining dog space when I sat with multiple meetings of neighbors before the pandemic. We need green space in the West Village, as well, and can sorely afford to lose that promised piece in our area. Plus the ball field and green space will be overshadowed by a 7-story building. We need to work with Eric Bottcher to keep that space open.

    • lynn pacifico lynn pacifico November 7, 2022

      Yes. We need more park in the West Village. While existing buildings can be changed to add/convert to housing, once land is built on – it is gone. We need to preserve all city-owned open space while we can. It is disappointing that the ESG wants to sacrifice OUR neighborhood’s land to save theirs. Both need to be saved.

  3. Jan Jan November 3, 2022

    388 Hudson St. is not an alternative site. It is not yours to use to prevent affordable housing at ESG and it was not originally proposed by CB2. Margaret Chin worked for years to get an agreement to build housing at that site, and that agreement was reached in December 2021. About 12,500 sq ft of 388 Hudson is available for development. It is in addition to, not instead of, ESG.

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