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City Weighs Support For Children’s Magical Garden

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June 13, 2013. Garden advocates marched to CB3's parks committee meeting.
June 13, 2013. Garden advocates marched to CB3’s parks committee meeting.

Last week, we posted a short item regarding the decision by Community Board 3’s parks’ committee to support a campaign to make the Children’s Magical Garden a permanent green space under he auspices of the city’s GreenThumb Program.  A resolution approved during the meeting will be taken up by CB3’s full board next week, and will almost certainly be adopted.  Now, more details.

The garden at Norfolk and Stanton streets consists of two parcels controlled by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and a third site owned by developer Serge Hoyda.  Last month, Hoyda put up a fence down the middle of the garden,  a provocative move that got the attention of city officials and, of course, garden activists.  In addition to making the garden permanent, local residents have also been pushing for a land swap in which Hoyda would trade the Norfolk Street parcel for another building site.  Over the years, he and the city have talked about building housing on all three lots.

An HPD spokesperson, Eric Bederman, told us yesterday:

We respect the Community Board’s support for the gardeners and their resolution last Thursday seeking to make the lots permanent gardening space. Throughout this process we’ve maintained an open line of communication with Council Member (Margaret) Chin’s office, and we continue to explore our options for the two city-owned sites. However, at no time during this process was a land swap with the private property owner discussed, and it is not being considered.

Council member Chin joined the gardeners Thursday evening for a rally on Norfolk Street before the community board meeting.  Carrying colorful signs, kids in costume marched alongside Chin and community activists determined to prevail after years in which the garden’s status has been in flux.  During remarks before the parks panel, Chin acknowledged that HPD’s mission is to build affordable housing but added, “it’s important to preserve green space.”  Working with other local elected officials, Chin said, she was ready to fight for the Children’s Magical Garden but they required CB3’s “strong support” in order to be effective.

The garden group began its presentation with a video (see above) meant to drive home the point that the green space is a refuge for your people and families, and a learning center used by four neighborhood schools.  Kate Temple West, the garden’s director, called it a “real treasure,” explaining, “these children inspire me almost every day.”    Feng Chen, a senior at Marta Valle High School, said “we built (the Children’s Magical Garden) together. We made it a pretty place. I really love the garden and all of the people in it.”  Dave Currence, who owns Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop down the street, said he’s used the garden for composting and sees it as a special place in which people can “give back” to their community.  He noted that more than 1900 petition signatures had been collected in support of making the garden permanent.

One opponent also spoke out during the meeting. Norfolk Street resident James Gregg said the garden is not accessible to the general community and only served a “small sub-set” of the neighborhood.  He called the garden, which is not exposed to enough sunlight to grow grass,  a “blight,” “rat infested” and “full of junk.”  Gregg said he was appalled that members of the City Council are supporting the garden group.  Gregg’s comments were met with heckling from the crowd. Following the meeting, garden leaders came face-to-face with Gregg and invited him to visit the Norfolk Street space.

During the meeting and afterward, several garden activists said Hoyda has signaled his willingness to trade some other parcel on the Lower East Side for the Norfolk Street property, which city records show he has owned since 2003.  Matt Viggiano, Council member Chin’s land use director, said a “swap” would be unique for HPD.   The city agency is not publicly telegraphing whether it would be willing to forego the opportunity to build housing on the site.  In an email exchange yesterday, Bederman said, “we are weighing our options and taking the various viewpoints and opinions into account.”

Hoyda’s office did not respond to a request for comment following the CB3 vote.



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