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Followup: Confrontation at the Children’s Magical Garden

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More now from the Children’s Magical Garden, where community activists, a real estate developer and police officers are engaged in a tense confrontation this afternoon. Several hours ago,  workers arrived on the scene at Stanton and Norfolk streets and began erecting a fence in one corner of the garden, which has been a contentious spot on the Lower East Side for many years.

The garden has been active for three decades.  Several years ago, about a third of the parcel was acquired by developer Serge Hoyda, who has sold many of his LES holdings but still has a presence in the neighborhood. The remainder of the lot is controlled by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.   The city has been in ongoing talks with the development company about building a new residential project on the combined parcel, including some affordable housing.  The garden group has always argued that the community now owns the space, since it rescued the lot from drug dealers and neglect many years ago.

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Citing security and safety concerns and the lack of insurance, representatives of the developer showed up on the scene today to put up a fence around the section of the garden Hoyda apparently still owns.  They showed police officers from the 7th Precinct documents from the Buildings Department indicating they were granted permission to build the fence.

Also on hand today, City Council member Margaret Chin’s land use director, Matt Viggiano, who has been involved with discussions with the developer and the city.  Viggiano urged the developer to stop building the fence, but the request was rejected. Hoyda’s representative, Rex Whitehorn, said, “we have been trying to cooperate for two years… it’s common sense. It had to happen (for liability reasons).”

Susan Howard, a longtime LES garden activist, shouted at workers, “Do you feel good about what you’re doing today, destroying a children’s garden?”  Another woman said, “You coward, you come over here and tell this kid you’re going to take a way his garden.”  Police officers said they had no choice but to let the work continue since the developer possessed Buildings Department approval.  But some residents were outraged, asking “Where’s the police force that’s on the side of the community.”

As of a few minutes ago, Council member Chin’s office was continuing to negotiate with the developer to get insurance coverage in place so that work on the fence could be stopped. We’ll have updates throughout the day…



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