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Elizabeth Street Garden Targeted for Affordable Housing

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The future of a city-owned plot of land in Little Italy is up for debate, as some want it to be open space, while others want it to be affordable housing.

There are two competing visions for a more than 20,000-square-foot plot of land on Elizabeth Street.

"It's a human need to have some open green space, and this neighborhood is particularly congested," said Jennifer Romine, who supports a garden that's on the plot of land.

"We all need more open space, sure, but we need affordable housing," said City Councilwoman Margaret Chin of Manhattan.

The spot, located between Prince Street and Spring Street, is a rare thing in Manhattan, open space owned by the city.

As part of a redevelopment plan around the Seward Park area on the Lower East Side, Chin negotiated with the Bloomberg administration to also turn the lot in Little Italy into affordable housing.

"On this land, we can build more than 100 units of affordable housing for seniors, for low-income family, for working families," Chin said.

Since 1990, Allan Reiver has leased the land from the city and used it as storage for his statues and antiques, which he collects and sells. Since about 2005, people were allowed to visit it through his gallery next door, but after that affordable housing deal in 2012, he opened it up to the public in 2013.

"It's unique. It's one-of-a-kind. It can't be replaced," Reiver said.

When it opened, organizers named it the Elizabeth Street Garden and vowed to preserve it. Advocates cited a lack of green space in the area.

The community board has passed a resolution supporting the cause.

"We have opened these gates and people have flooded in, and people from all walks of life," said Emily Hellstrom, an Elizabeth Street Garden organizer. "This is really a community center, and one that we really lack."

Chin sees the land differently.

"It's not an open space, it's a storage space," she said. "This site is where we can build some good, solid affordable housing."

A spokesman for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development said this is still in the early stages, and they plan to work with both the community board and the councilwoman to figure out what ultimately happens.

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