CB3 Signals Support of Siempre Verde Garden, Shuns Proposed Development

Posted on: October 15th, 2014 at 6:09 am by
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The Siempre Verde Garden spent the last month frantically rallying the troops against the goliath of luxury development. It was a grassroots full-court press – both through social media and in real life – that ultimately succeeded in netting nearly 1,000 signatures in opposition to the plans. What’s more, twelve other neighborhood gardens and a bevy of residents with props were in attendance yesterday evening for a show of support at the Land Use subcommittee of Community Board 3. In the end, the panel fully backed the bid for garden permanence.

But not before some oratory and theatrics.

A representative from HPD’s Manhattan Planning division revisited the possibly of trading the three parcels – 181 Stanton and 137-139 Attorney – for 16 total residential units (3 of which are affordable). Her presentation was simply a summary of the situation, and seemed to favor development. Especially since the neighborhood would gain much-needed affordable housing.

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In April 2012, CB3 approved the pitch to combine and sell two city lots to the owner of the third (William Gottlieb Real Estate) in order to develop the five-story building; the developer and HPD were told to return after sixty days to discuss updates, but instead spent all of 2013 “negotiating” overall plans; Siempre Verde Garden was meantime born in fall of 2012 and quickly recognized as a GreenThumb space.

Once the floor was ceded to the board and members of the public, it was open season. Perhaps the sharpest dagger in the belt was the fact that neither HPD nor billion-dollar firm William Gottlieb Real Estate returned to deliver updates as promised. Seen as weakness and a significant leverage point, the point was made that this landowner is irresponsible and difficult to take seriously. Caught between both sides, the city rep claimed to have no knowledge of the setup, but was reminded that the minutes are made available to the public. Some other notable soundbytes from the panel included, “We will fight for every square-foot of vacant space for community benefit,” or, “Public land shouldn’t satisfy a private developer.”

Garden members described their toils to create this intra-tenement urban oasis. How 20 tons of debris was removed and replaced with 50 cubic-yards of fill, and all financed by the money and motivation of grants and volunteers. Or how the neighborhood benefited from the open space, whether through social networking, planting vegetables, or as an altar for a couple without means.

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Throughout the hour-long debate/discussion, CB3 remained fairly united regarding the importance of gardens, despite the priority directive of affordable housing. The motion to support transfer of the two city-owned parcels to the Parks Department for permanent status as the Siempre Verde Garden carried the night; the language also includes a provision that nullifies the 2012 letter of approval for the development.

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