Gardeners Voice Concern Over Rules

NYCCGC town hall meetingStephanie Butnick Longtime East Village resident and community gardener Carolyn Ratcliffe speaking during the meeting.

East Village community gardeners attended a town hall meeting Saturday to express their concern that that recently revised rules governing community gardens don’t do enough to protect the green spaces from the threat of developers.

“This puts gardens in jeopardy,” Charles Krezell, a gardener who attended the meeting, said of the new rules. “We want all gardens protected for as long as they’re standing.”

In an interview before the meeting, Mr. Krezell, of the De Colores Community Yard on East Eighth Street, between Avenues B and C, said that many gardeners are worried that the new regulations don’t grant sufficient legislative protection to community gardens.

Indeed, some worry that East Village gardens may especially be at risk as area real estate continues to lure developers. Community gardeners fear that the wording of the new rules may leave gardens vulnerable.

Panelists discussed the legal language of the rules, which, among other things, state that a garden can go into default – the first step toward being closed down – if it becomes “blighted” or a “public nuisance.”

“The terms are vague,” panelist Norman Siegel, a lawyer who works with the coalition, told the audience at the meeting. “I’ve been called a public nuisance. If I show up in a garden, is that grounds to shut it down?” he said jokingly, prompting laughter from the audience.

He added more seriously, “And who is going to make that decision?”

The answer to that question, at least, is clear: according to the new rules, the Parks and the Housing Preservation and Development Departments have “sole discretion” over decisions regarding default.

Many community gardeners, however, would like to see a more transparent decision-making process that represents a variety of local interests. They fear that sole discretionary power matched with a pro-development agenda could incentivize the classification of gardens as “blighted.”

“Our neighborhood is still considered a hot neighborhood,” longtime East Village resident and community gardener Carolyn Ratcliffe said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “The real estate market is not that depressed in the East Village.”

Don LogginsRobyn Baitcher Don Loggins, of the Liz Christy Garden, said that community gardens should be made into “mapped parklands.”

The New York City Community Garden Coalition hosted Saturday’s meeting, which Karen Washington, the president of the coalition, said was held “to really get some clarity on what the rules and regulations are supposed to do.”

Other gardeners agreed that the new rules, which take effect in three weeks, should do more to protect the spaces.

Don Loggins, who supervises the Liz Christy Garden at Bowery and Houston Streets –- which is one of the neighborhood’s oldest gardens, said that he believes that the gardens should be made into “mapped parklands.”

“I think the rules are good as far as they go, but because they’re subject to change by any new parks commissioner or any new mayor, I think we have to go further,” Mr. Loggins said in an interview.

Mr. Loggins said that he does not share the same concern about potential developers at the site of the Christy Garden – but he empathizes with other gardeners. “I don’t think anything would ever happen to Liz Christy mainly because of the geography — we’re built on top of a subway,” he said. “But it’s not the same for the other gardens.”

Robyn Baitcher contributed information to this report.