NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)New York City is moving forward with plans to develop a community garden in Little Italy into affordable housing for seniors despite pending lawsuits against the plans.

As CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported Friday, the Elizabeth Street Garden has become a refuge where many escape the bustle of the big city.

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“It’s everyone’s backyard and you really lose that sense of community in the city often when there’s hyper-gentrification,” said Joseph Reiver, executive director of the Elizabeth Street Garden, a nonprofit that manages the land that is leased from the city.

A battle over the land has been brewing for years.

In 2019, Reiver’s group filed a lawsuit to keep the green space as is. The lawsuit remains before the courts, but this week Elizabeth Street Garden received an eviction notice stating the group must vacate with Oct. 31.

“The community is outraged by this,” Reiver said. “We see this as an underhanded move. It’s unseemly and we’re going to vigorously oppose this.”

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The city’s plans for the space include a 7-story mixed-use building that would include 123 affordable apartments for seniors and thousands of square feet of green space.

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On Friday, the city said it’s within its rights to issue the eviction notice regardless of the pending litigation. The city said it’s working to ensure the space is ready for potential construction.

In a March 2019 interview, Leila Bozorg, a city housing and preservation official, emphasized the need for affordable housing in the area.

“We have very few public sites in Manhattan that present opportunities for building low-income housing in higher-cost, higher income neighborhoods. This is one of those valuable sites,” Bozorg said.

Community advocates said they agree more affordable housing is necessary in the city, but said alternative solutions are out there.

“There are real solutions where you get as much housing, affordable housing, that you need without community gardens being destroyed,” Reiver said. “Including existing vacancies and having office space conversions.”

The Elizabeth Street Garden group plans to hold a public rally on Sunday, when members will demand the city rescind its eviction notification.

Haven Green, the development team for the affordable housing project, did not respond to our request for comment.

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CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team