A Lower East Side community garden could soon be razed to make way for development
By Adam Janos
“I could not believe that what I saw today,” Jun Mei Jiang wrote on Wednesday, May 15th in a letter to the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). “There were so many police and reporters surrounding our garden. Cameras we flashing [sic] and a lot of workers were taking over our seeds and cutting the trees… Everything changed, my favorite apple tree was gone.”
Mei Jiang is a student in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class at Lower East Preparatory High School. The garden described is Children’s Magical Garden, a thirty-year-old community garden at the corner of Norfolk Street and Stanton Street. And as of the 15th of May, it’s become a flashpoint for controversy between a private developer and the community that nursed and maintained the long abandoned space.
Children’s Magical Garden, which was created in the 1980s, is 4,992 square feet, and can be divided into three parcels of land. Two are owned by the HPD; the other is a 2,000 square foot envelopment belonging to Serge Hoyda of Norfolk Street Developers LLC. On Wednesday the 15th, Hoyda had workers cordon off his section of the property, effectively ending youth involvement in half the garden.
Mei Jiang’s class had been working on improving the garden as part of their coursework. Their school is one of several that uses the garden; Marta Valle High School and the School for Global Leaders also use the space for educational purposes, and P.S. 20 had been planning on getting involved before school was out.
Neither Hoyda nor his attorney Rex Whitehorn responded to requests for comment from this paper; however advocates for the park and local government officials allege that there are no imminent plans for the property and that without the remaining two parcels of land, development would be difficult on such limited space. According to Children’s Magical Garden treasurer Dave Currence, Whitehorn claimed that having children gardening in his vacant lot “was a liability issue, and if someone was to trip and fall they [the developer] would be responsible.”
Discussions for said-equitable agreement have largely revolved around HPD, which will play a deciding role in the fate of the garden. Hoyda has approached the agency to inquire about purchasing their land for residential development. Garden advocates, meanwhile, are hoping HPD will instead turn their parcels over to the Parks Department. If that were to happen, the gardeners could enter into a Green Thumb Agreement that would allow them to preserve the green space in the community indefinitely.
The entire matter will be addressed again at Community Board 3’s Parks Committee at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, at the BRC Senior Services Center (30 Delancey Street). As for the developer’s concerns over their liability with the children until then, Children’s Magical Garden took out an insurance policy on behalf of the Norfolk property, covering $2 million in damages, in the hopes the move would, at least temporarily, bring the fence down and allow the young gardeners back into their garden.
“We don’t have much of a budget,” said Currence, when asked how much of an impact the insurance policy cost the garden. “We struggle to pay for wood chips. So paying for an insurance policy, it’s sizable… but it’s doable, for the community.”
As of press time, the fence was still up.
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