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.”
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!