A Replay of Giuliani-Era
Community Garden Controversy?
By Henry Stewart
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
CONEY ISLAND -- Two community gardens on city-owned land in Coney Island are likely to be sold to developers by next year, according to city officials.
The gardens â€śare located on a site we plan to offer for the development of affordable housing,â€ť Neill Coleman, a spokesman for Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), a city agency, wrote in an e-mail.
Garden advocates concede that their prospects for preventing development of the gardens look grim.
â€śItâ€™s unlikely theyâ€™ll be preserved,â€ť said Edie Stone, the director of Green Thumb, a parks department program that oversees community gardens. â€śTheyâ€™re in a high-visibility, serious spot.â€ť
The two gardens â€” the Unity Towers Tenant Association Garden (1917 Surf Ave.) and the Senior Citizens Block Association of Mermaid Avenue Garden (2917 W. 20th St.) â€” lie within the boundaries of Coney Islandâ€™s proposed redevelopment area.
The redevelopment plan, issued by Mayor Bloomberg last year, would allow and encourage the construction of new housing and retail in parts of Coney Island where it is currently prohibited by zoning restrictions.
â€śThereâ€™s a big push to develop Coney Island in general,â€ť Stone said, â€śso theyâ€ť â€” the city â€” â€śwant their land back.â€ť
With increasingly little open space left for development in the compactly developed city, opening up an area like the Coney Island amusement district could be a potential gold mine for developers and landowners, as long as the mayorâ€™s redevelopment plans move forward.
â€śItâ€™s one of the few areas left in New York for waterfront development,â€ť said Cara Monaco, a former outreach coordinator at Green Thumb.
Green Thumb tried to negotiate for the gardens with HPD, which has jurisdiction over the land, but to no avail, Monaco said.
â€śHPD isnâ€™t going to sell what itâ€™s not going to sell,â€ť Monaco, who used to work with the gardeners in Coney Island and is familiar with their current situation, said. â€śThere are some areas that are so valuable to HPD that they will not let them go for anything but development.â€ť
During Rudy Giulianiâ€™s mayoralty in the 1990s, garden closures were at their highest rates, culminating in 1998 when the Giuliani administration tried to auction off all of the community gardens on city-owned property.
But a judge stopped Giulianiâ€™s plan from moving forward. In 2002, a compromise was reached between the attorney generalâ€™s office and the city that handed jurisdiction over many gardens to the parks department, protecting them from development. Many others have been bought by private organizations like the Trust for Public Land, but a few dozen or so remain under the control of HPD.
The HPD gardens are unprotected from development. The city allows gardeners to use the space, but only until they find another use for it â€” usually housing.
The number of HPD gardens has been steadily dwindling as the city sells the land to developers. Edie Stone, the Green Thumb director, estimated that about 10 gardens under HPD control are developed every year.
Many garden advocates are upset about the plans to build on top of the gardens.
â€śIt's terrible to lose any community gardens,â€ť Carolyn McCrory, a community gardener in the East Village and a frequent Coney Island visitor, wrote in an e-mail. â€śThe best ones really directly improve the quality of life in many ways. The therapeutic action of gardening, putting your hands in the soil, being outside, meeting members of your community.â€ť
Chuck Reichenthal, the manager of the local community board, isnâ€™t worried about the gardens as long as theyâ€™re relocated, although he expressed a concern about where the gardens might go.
â€śI want to know where that would be,â€ť he said, â€śconsidering the land grab going on here.â€ť
Whether the gardens continue to operate in the years to come, they will reopen this year.
The â€śgardens do not face imminent closure,â€ť Coleman wrote. â€śWe do not have immediate plans to develop the sites.â€ť
Â© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2007
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