Council Member Chin Offers Tentative Support For Siempre Verde Garden

Image via Siempre Verde Community Garden Facebook page.

Image via Siempre Verde Community Garden Facebook page.

Here’s a followup on the push to save the Siempre Verde Community Garden on Stanton Street. Garden activists launched a petition drive to stop a private developer and the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) from building a 16-unit apartment building with ground floor retail on the garden parcels. Three of the apartments would be affordable.  Today, City Council member Margaret Chin offered her initial take on the situation.

Later this month, Community Board 3’s land use committee will be asked to consider the proposal. The project would incorporate two city-owned lots – 137 Attorney St. and 181 Stanton St. – as well as 139 Attorney St., a parcel owned by the estate of William Gottlieb, a real estate baron who accumulated a great deal of land in Lower Manhattan. Two years ago, HPD agreed to permit community members to operate an interim garden on the city-owned land until there was a viable development proposal.

In a statement, Chin said:

I will review this proposal being put forth by HPD and the developer once it has been considered by Community Board 3. But my feeling at this point is that three units of affordable housing are not worth the loss of a green space that is so important to our community.

The development parcel was outlined in the proposal presented to CB3 in 2012.

The development parcel was outlined in the proposal presented to CB3 in 2012.

In the past, the privately owned lot has been listed for sale.  But an HPD spokesperson confirmed yesterday that it has not changed hands. The developer, the spokesperson, said, is William Gottlieb Management.  The irregular L-shaped lot has been a challenge to develop. The project as currently envisioned would be privately financed and would receive no direct public subsidy, although the developer would be eligible for tax breaks.

In April of 2012, CB3 approved a similar proposal. Its resolution stated that the board supported “maximizing permanent affordable housing” as opposed to “maximizing city revenue.” The resolution encouraged the city to push for more than three units of affordable housing.

But garden activists mobilized, re-established a garden that had a long history in the neighborhood but which had been dormant in recent years and lobbied the community board for support. In October of 2012, CB3 approved a second resolution in support of an interim garden.  Since the development proposal was abandoned, HPD agreed. At the time, an agency spokesperson told us, “we are willing to allow a community group to create an interim garden until any future construction is scheduled to begin,” adding, “we require that groups work with GreenThumb (an arm of the Parks Department) and follow the proper procedures, including a requirement to… acknowledge in writing that the garden is permitted on an interim basis only.”

This afternoon, garden leader Elissa Sampson said there’s a clear choice facing the community board. It’s not a question, she said, of choosing between affordable housing and green space, since the building would be primarily luxury, with just 3 affordable apartments. The residents of Stanton Street, she said, have very little green space, noting that the local community includes many low and middle income tenants who would sacrifice “light and air” if the real estate development moves forward. Sampson said it was her understanding that HPD has struggled over the years to find any developer to take over “lots that are not very buildable.”  She said more than 70 events have been held in the garden and that Siempre Verde had become “part of the heart of the block.”

270 people have now signed the group’s petition.