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Standoff at the Children’s Magical Garden; Resolution Elusive So Far

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Here’s the latest in the battle for the Children’s Magical Garden, where real estate developer Serge Hoyda has caused quite a stir this week by putting up a fence to divide a popular neighborhood oasis.  Yesterday afternoon, City Council member Margaret Chin showed up at the garden, located at Norfolk and Stanton streets, to talk with garden leaders and check in on a banner-making party meant to turn up the pressure of Hoyda, who’s been the subject of unflattering news coverage the last couple of days.

Chin repeated a plea she first made Wednesday, urging Hoyda’s S&H Equities to remove the fence, which marks off about a third of the lot that he owns.  The remainder of the parcel is controlled by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development and has served as a community garden for three decades. “This (garden) is a treasure and we’ve got to keep it in the community,” Chin said, adding, “By putting up a fence he (Hoyda) is not being a good neighbor and is not helping his case.” 

Margaret Chin speaking with garden leader Dave Currence and one of the garden's younger enthusiasts.
Margaret Chin speaking with garden leader Dave Currence and one of the garden’s younger enthusiasts.

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What cause is Hoyda attempting to advance?  At the moment. that’s a bit of a mystery.  The developer, who owns many Lower East Side properties, purchased the parcel in 2003 for $180,000.  According to city officials, Hoyda’s representative (legal/lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig) last spoke with HPD in February about joining forces to build a mixed-market rate/affordable housing complex on the privately owned and city controlled lots.  On Wednesday, Hoyda’s representative on the scene said the fence was being put up to protect S&H Equities from potential lawsuits; there was no insurance coverage in the garden. Yesterday, Chin said insurance is “not an issue,” since her office and garden activists quickly lined up coverage following Wednesday morning’s dramatic events.

Chin said she is not “ruling out” the possibility of building affordable housing on the parcel but that she wanted to “make sure the garden has a future.”  One option being discussed with HPD and the Parks Department, she said, is a land swap involving some other LES lot.  But she conceded that “there are not too many vacant lots in the district.”   Last night, an HPD spokesperson told The Lo-Down the agency is trying to balance Hoyda’s property rights with the needs of the garden group.  The garden organization rejected an offer from the city for a short-term contract because signing the agreement would have meant conceding that the garden would eventually be developed.  While it’s possible an alternate garden site will be located, city officials are not actively considering a swap in which Hoyda would be offered a parcel somewhere else in exchange for relinquishing his ownership of the Stanton Street site.

The lot (known as 157 Norfolk St.), is currently listed by Misrahi Realty for $3.3 million. In previous listings, it was billed as a potential site for a “luxury condo building.”  Misrahi indicates the lot could accommodate an 8,000 square foot development.

Staff members for Council member Chin said Community Board 3 will take up the Children’s Magical Garden issue June 13.  It is hoped that Hoyda will send representatives to that meeting. There has been no contact with the developer since the fence was erected this week.   There was a similar hearing before CB3 back in 2006, when the board passed a resolution rejecting Hoyda’s development plan and urging all sides to work together to find a solution everyone could accept.  If Hoyda wants to acquire the city-owned lots for any future development project, he will need the support of the City Council, through the land use approval process. Chin said Council Speaker Chris Quinn reached out this week, offering her support in finding a solution to the conflict.

Meantime, the garden group is continuing its activism. Kids were on hand yesterday making banners to place on the fence, and  via Facebook supporters are being urged to contact the mayor about the situation. Here’s the text of the letter they’re asking people to send to Michael Bloomberg:

This Wednesday May 15th, Children’s Magical Community Garden had her heart torn in two by a developer’s fence.  You can change this – and the solution is win/win/win.

1-immediately transfer the 2/3 of the community garden (currently controlled by HPD) into (the) Parks (Department) GreenThumb

2- Offer a swap to the developer (who is willing) and is also requested by our Councilmember Chin

This garden is at Stanton and Norfolk on the Lower East Side, where low-income children of all ages need outdoor safe space to play and learn about nature. This will help our community become more resilient and healthy!

 

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I’m confused, he owns the lot why can’t he do as he likes with it? Whenever I’ve gone by that lot, it’s been rather empty n creepy.

  2. He is free to do what he likes with the parcel he owns but as a practical matter a new development is only viable if the city agrees to sell him the two adjacent lots. Those’s publicly-owned lots are subject to ULURP.

  3. I guess you haven’t gone by this garden on the days when teenagers from the local high schools gather with children of the community to garden and plant or learn about permaculture. The people of the community have transformed this space, worked hard to get rid of the rat infestation that empty developments and construction sites bring with them, and hold free events for the people of the Lower East Side who can’t while their Saturdays away having $200 brunch. Somehow, this developer acquired a portion of this lot and effectively pushes a community operated garden out of its space by putting up a fence. I walk by empty, derelict, trashed lots in this neighborhood and its sad to see people step up and put time, money, and care into transforming them only for the developer to finally want to build something now that it has been cleaned up for him. He can’t really build anything on the lot, he needs the other two lots that the garden still sits on. It looks as if he is using bully tactics instead of good neighbor tactics to try to get the rest of the land.

  4. It’s a great garden in the tradition of all the community gardens that were built neighbors when no one else wanted these sites. Please bring a petition by the Sara Roosevelt Park Stanton Street IMPD and we’ll collect signatures tomorrow!

  5. The kids recently planted fig trees, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs, flowers and various other plants to add to the already existing apple trees, prune tree, nectarine tree, peach tree, hostas, various herbs, butterfly bush and many other trees and edible plants planted by children.
    With all the kids, monarch butterflies, bluejays, robins, and various other wildlife, not to mention summer jazz concerts and many kid friendly events, the Children’s Magical Garden is a beautiful natural oasis and keeps the community alive and connected.
    The community cleaned and beautified this place.
    Is it not creepy for Serge Hoyda to take away a children’s garden using bully tactics (bringing in aggressive, intimidating large private security men and building a fence without notice) after 31 years of local kids and volunteers having worked really hard, donating money and dedicating years of their time to making this property a community treasure?

  6. I plan to print out some petitions tomorrow and will bring them by Sarah Roosevelt Park tomorrow – thanks!

  7. He owns it and that’s it, my god people why is anyone speaking on a “Privately owned lot” see the key word “PRIVATE”
    I am amazed at how things have to be giving away cause its what we want!
    No, I’m sorry that’s not how it works!

  8. The kids recently planted fig trees, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, herbs, flowers and various other plants to add to the already existing apple trees, prune tree, nectarine tree, peach tree, hostas, various herbs, butterfly bush and many other trees and edible plants planted by children.
    With all the kids, monarch butterflies, bluejays, robins, and various other wildlife, not to mention summer jazz concerts and many kid friendly events, the Children’s Magical Garden is a beautiful natural oasis and keeps the community alive and connected.
    The community cleaned and beautified this place.
    The fence dividing the garden is not nice. It took 31 years of local kids and volunteers having worked really hard, donating money and dedicating years of their time to make this land a community treasure.

  9. Hurricane Sandy and the intense luxury building boom on the LES has seen an increase in rats in all parks – sounds like they are dealing with theirs..

  10. “Privately owned”? Well.. the two lots they don’t “own” belong to the public/city -“us”. “Their” lot is useless without “ours”. They are asking “us” if they can have “our” land so maybe they would want to act with a bit of humility?

    Then again, if you think “owning” anything in the US confers some kind of righteous, “legal” halo you haven’t read your history: recent or past.

    Community volunteer gardeners tend to consider themselves stewards of the land they care for – maybe a more useful perspective for all of our survival, long-term?

  11. Yes, it was and the rats were probably as big a challenge as the junkies who occupied the lot in the 80’s. But now, like the junkies, the community has successfully rid the garden of rats and is now threatened by another sinister force.

  12. I live next to the “magical” Garden and am completely bewildered by this
    article and the responses below. The rat infestation was well before
    Sandy, the gate is ALWAYS locked and until they were faced with a
    developer’s action NO ONE was allowed inside. It is an unwelcoming
    blight to the neighborhood. It is interesting that the photo above has
    grown ups painting a sign (with no children around). This is a complete
    lie and I am appalled by Emily Commer and the lesnyc that have comments
    below. Please tell the truth. Using the idea of children for your own
    selfish promotion is insulting to this community.

  13. As for the photo showing adults creating banners: the event went on for about 3 hours. We were there at the beginning and the end but not in the middle when most of the banner making was being done. As you will see on the garden’s Facebook page, there were a number of kids who came by after school to help. https://www.facebook.com/groups/childrensmagicalgarden/. Regarding the discussion about how much the garden is used or not used: we will leave that to people who live on the block and who are involved in the garden group.

  14. Please come to the Community Board Meeting on June 13th before signing ANYTHING! Listen to the facts before you put your name to anything.

  15. Dear Resident,
    You are right about the state of the garden in the past. I’ve been very impressed with the hard work of a new group of leaders who have worked with local businesses on the LES including Tiny’s Giant Sandwich and Beauty & Essex to safely and organically rid the garden of the rat infestation. It is interesting to think that there would be no adults or parents around in a children’s garden – I’m appalled that you are calling these efforts a complete lie. We often go to the garden after school during its open hours – hours that accommodate after school times for the CHILDREN of the neighborhood, perhaps not the hours when you are home after work. By the way – those “Adults” you are referring to above are high schoolers from the high school across the street who work in the garden and with my young children and I support that wholeheartedly. I live in this neighborhood too and don’t know of a single place like this that is welcoming of all and where I can be outside and learn about gardening with my family. I am not ashamed to sign my comments with my name.

  16. Thanks Bowerygals,
    The garden has worked very hard to safely and organically rid the garden of rats. This is a local problem and its naive to see people blame a community garden for rats on the Lower East Side. Local businesses like Tiny’s and Beauty & Essex helped the garden afford to do this responsibly – thanks to them! A construction site will surely bring them back.

  17. The “fact” is that the Community Board supports the Children’s Magical Garden becoming permanent! Thanks to everyone who signed, stopped into the garden in the last weeks, and showed up in support of the garden last night. It was a victory! To those “resident”s in the neighborhood for whom this garden is not – there are other gardens and plenty more vacant lots to transform.

  18. The whole reason the community gardens exist in the first place was because the real estate was too worthless to build on. Now there is a housing shortage, the same people who cry “we demand affordable housing” are probably behind this propoganda campaign

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