Neighbors fight planned development at site of beloved Manhattan garden

On Elizabeth St. between Spring and Prince, behind a 16-foot-tall -- but open -- chain-link gate, one finds an oasis from the brick and pavement and traffic of the city around it, where the public might read a book or chase bubbles, meet to chat or eat a shady lunch among trees, flowers and stone sculptures. The city plans to build what developers describe as "a 123-unit, deeply affordable, LGBTQ-friendly rental complex for seniors" on this site, razing most of this garden established 30 years ago.

"Definitely not against affordable housing," Elizabeth St. Garden Executive Director Joseph Reiver said.

Reiver, who along with the garden's 250 volunteers have fought to save it for the last eight years, points to an alternate site for the Haven Green development, located in the same district as the garden and identified by the local community board. Reiver says that gravel lot would accommodate five times more housing than his square-mile-and-a-half tranquil glade in Nolita.

"These are two vitalities that really contribute to the livability of the city and they shouldn't be pitted against each other," he said.

In a statement sent to FOX 5 NY, a spokesman for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development wrote: "Affordable housing continues to be the number one issue for New Yorkers ... We have worked diligently to strike a balance between the need for low-cost housing for seniors with maintaining New York’s vibrant open spaces, which is why this site will have public space available to the community while also creating affordable housing for the seniors who need it most."

In a phone call, Cultural Landscape Foundation President and CEO Charles Birnbaum told FOX 5 NY: "[The garden] is in a neighborhood that is woefully inadequate when it comes to public space. We believe that the Elizabeth St. Garden is a nationally significant, historical resource ... and should be an integral part of the Little Italy historic district. It should be treasured."

"Locals, neighbors, tourists, businesses: It serves everyone," Reiver said.

Neither Haven Green's lead developer nor Housing works -- quoted on Haven Green's site as supporting the project -- responded to Fox 5's request for comment in time for this story to make air.

"We don't need to destroy a space like this to achieve affordable housing," Reiver said.

More than 100,000 people visit the garden every year. The garden, the city and the developers all await a judgment on a lawsuit filed to stop Haven Green from building on the Elizabeth St. Garden site.

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