A resident group is one step closer to winning approval from the city for use of two vacant parcels on Stanton and Attorney streets for an interim community garden. A spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which controls the properties, tells The Lo-Down the agency is willing to allow the group to use the spaces until the lots are needed for any residential development project. Last week, Community Board 3’s Parks Committee voted unanimously to support the garden proposal. The group has been working with GreenThumb, a division of the city’s Parks Department, to properly license the parcels.
This past spring, Community Board 3 approved a preliminary concept from a developer to put up a building on the site containing 14 apartments, three of them affordable. The project would have utilized three adjacent lots: 139 Attorney Street (owned by the estate of William Gottlieb) and 137 Attorney and 181 Stanton (both owned by the city). The city spokesperson said that while there was a preliminary proposal from a development company, no commitments were made and, at least for now, there are no plans to develop the site.
This summer, residents spruced up the parcel, removing debris left over from an art project, carting away trash and bringing in potted flowers. At last week’s hearing, people speaking in favor of the interim garden said the site has for many years been a “dumping ground” and a location infested with drugs, garbage and rats.
During the discussion, there was some conflicting information regarding the status of the site. Susan Stetzer, CB3’s district manager, said she’d spoken with HPD staff, who said they were willing to consider a garden. Stetzer outlined the steps required to license the garden with the city. But Roland Chouloute, who said he was an assistant commissioner at GreenThumb, interjected, saying HPD had already “pre-cleared” the Stanton Street property. Later in the meeting and in a separate phone interview, he seemed to suggest otherwise, saying the application looked good but would not be processed until after CB3 full board weighs in. Chouloute, who’s listed as assistant director on GreenThumb’s web site, added that decisions about site access are entirely up to their owners, in this case HPD.
This week Stetzer told us, “my concern from the meeting is that my credibility was questioned, and therefore CB 3’s credibility was questioned. The representative from GreenThumb spoke as if my information was incorrect.” In following up with HPD after the meeting, Stetzer confirmed that no decision had been made. She said the matter was uncontroversial; the committee vote was unanimous. The situation was made more complicated than it needed to be, she said.
Meanwhile, this past weekend, someone padlocked the garden preventing the residents from accessing the parcels. The HPD spokesperson said no one is permitted to use the lots without a license agreement. But Susan Howard, a longtime garden activist, said in an interview this past weekend that the group had been given permission to work on the lots while the paperwork is being processed. The bigger issue will be what happens after the location gains status as an interim garden.
The group would like the option of acquiring the parcels on a permanent basis. Howard said she believed CB3 is obligated to notify existing gardens located on city-owned parcels when development proposals come before the board. If and when HPD is ready to sell 181 Stanton and 137 Attorney, she believes the neighborhood organization should be part of the conversation.