Daffodils are already peeking their heads up at the Elizabeth Street Garden, welcoming early spring-time wanderers to park their shopping bags on a bench amid the antique sculptures, or spread out on the grass. The park, once inaccessible, has been having a renaissance of sorts– often as a perfect Instagrammable respite for model-types weary of traipsing through Soho.
Yet lately many garden enthusiasts have had trouble enjoying the scene, concerned that the Department of Housing is taking steps to demolish the garden to build affordable housing for seniors in its place– part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to preserve and create 200,000 affordable housing units within 10 years.
But on Friday the garden’s supporters breathed a sigh of relief after the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation declined to fund HPD’s request for $5 million, instead choosing projects more popular with their communities, like Pier 42 Park and a Jackie Robinson museum.
The decision is being hailed as an important sign that the new building may not be built after all. “We believed that the LMDC decision on Friday clearly reflects our community’s tremendous interest and support in preserving the garden as a New York City Park,” said Jeannine Kiely of the volunteer group Friends of Elizabeth Garden. If the funding had come through, it would have been even harder to derail the momentum behind the new building and save the garden, one of the few dots of green space in the area.
Friends of Elizabeth Garden, which counts around 100 volunteers and planned 175 events last summer, had been tirelessly organizing against the garden’s demolition since they heard about it last September. They quickly gathered 15,000 letters of support for the garden and mobilized more than 200 community members to show up at a hearing, asking LMDC not to fund the proposal. The LMDC decision does not preclude HPD moving forward on its own, but it indicates that community dissent may have had an impact.
Community Board 2 also was against the proposal even though it strongly supports the push for more affordable housing. Last month they issued a resolution asking HPD to delay a Request for Proposal for developers interested in the site. They also asked the city to consider a larger vacant lot for affordable housing redevelopment instead.
In a statement on Friday, Tobi Bergman, chair of CB2, cheered the decision and warned HPD to back off from the plan. “This decision reflects the strength of community support for the garden,” he wrote. “This same support will eventually lead to failure of any ongoing effort to develop housing there. If HPD decides to pursue a Request for Proposals for the Elizabeth Street site, it will waste its own resources and those of developers who may respond to the RFP without understanding the costs of the fight they will be investing in.”
HPD did not respond with any specific details of next steps, so only time will tell if the affordable housing building is still in the works. But if the city does move forward, expect the outcry to grow more heated– you don’t want to get between a New Yorker and her eensy-teensy slot of real-live grass in the sun. Until then, gear up for spring among the statues while it lasts (and while you can still find space for your yoga mat).