Elizabeth Street Garden, New York City, NY

Bad News, Good-ish News for the Elizabeth Street Garden

The existential threat to New York City’s Elizabeth Street Garden (ESG), a one-acre community garden with classical statuary in lower Manhattan created by Allan Reiver, recently increased. The city wants to turn the site into affordable housing. The ESG, which has operated the site on a month-to-month basis since 1991, is currently embroiled in two lawsuits against the city: in one in Civil Court, the ESG is fighting an October 31, 2021, eviction order; and the other before an Appellate Court is seeking an order compelling the city to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed development. ESG supporters say the garden is a welcome oasis of green space in the North of Little Italy (Nolita) neighborhood, which according to the New York City Parks Department is one of the city’s most under-served in terms of open space.

On May 8, in a thirteen-page decision, Civil Court Judge Richard Tsai ruled in favor of the city’s eviction motion and ordered the ESG’s stewards to pay more than $95,000 in back rent, but, importantly, he stayed the decision four months until September 10. ESG Director Joseph Reiver emailed supporters “Our effort is not over at all [emphasis in the original].” Reiver has consistently described the either/or green space or affordable housing as a false choice and has repeatedly pointed to other nearby parcels of city-owned land that could accommodate more affordable housing units. The ESG has filed a notice to appeal Judge Tsai's decision.

While the eviction is stayed, the case in Appellate Court in Albany continues. On Wednesday, May 15, the ESG’s lawyer, Norman Siegel of Siegel Teitelbaum & Evans LLP, argued according to a Bloomberg Law report for a full EIS because the city should “consider climate change and greenhouse gas emission reductions in its reviews of proposed building projects.” Siegel cited “a 2017 New York City executive order aligning the city’s climate goals with those of the Paris Climate Agreement” that should inform “what standards the city should follow in its reviews under the law.” The Bloomberg Law report quoted Associate Judge Jenny Rivera asking during oral argument: “That’s the novel issue—is that we need to make some statement that climate change is obviously a concern?” It's unclear when a decision will be rendered. 

For now, the ESG’s supporters are being to send a pre-written letter to Mayor Eric Adams and the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Office demanding they stop the eviction and work with the community to save the garden.