City rejects paved over Carroll Gardens garden

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The city has mowed down a plan by a Carroll Gardens man who paved his front yard to turn into an outdoor seating space for his new cafe — the latest effort to protect the expansive gardens that give the neighborhood its name and much of its character.

The Buildings Department did approve Vincenzo Cumbo’s plan for a restaurant at the corner of Court Street and First Place, but the agency never gave him the authority to pave over the garden on the First Place side of the building.

Decades-old zoning law preserves the gardens along First, Second, Third, and Fourth places to be used “for courtyards only.” The gardens are actually considered part of the street and not the homeowner’s lot, giving the city oversight about what is permissible there.

“We put him on notice that he needs to bring the garden into compliance with the area’s regulation, and if he does not, we will revoke the site’s permits,” said agency spokeswoman Ryan Fitzgibbon.

Cumbo, who neighbors said owed a nearby Carvel ice cream shop and Laundromat, did not respond to a request for comment. His architect, Felix Tambasco, said he would still try to win approval for the outdoor seating.

“As it is now, [paved] as an open space, it is compliant,” he claimed. “Whether it can be used as an outdoor eating area, that remains to be seen. He’s trying to do the right thing.”

It is unclear why the city cracked down on Cumbo. The deli across the street from Cumbo’s site uses its First Place space as a parking lot. And a nearby Dunkin Donuts uses its “garden” as a seating area — though it is covered with foliage.

The city said its enforcement of front yard garden law is complaint-driven.

Indeed, over the summer, inspectors ticketed three homeowners following a stunning report in this newspaper that many residents of Fourth Place between Smith and Court streets had turned their front yards into parking lots.

Garden guardians were relieved following the city’s intervention.

“I’m generally opposed to the notion that people are using public space for private commercial use,” said John Hathaway, co-chair of the Land Use Committee of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. “That’s just not right.”

But some seem willing to compromise.

“If he wants to use it in a way that’s not ugly, then I don’t have a problem with it,” said longtime area activist Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto. “We should be reasonable with it and understand it. After all, the most important thing in our neighborhood is our people.”

Updated 5:22 pm, July 9, 2018: This story was first reported by the New York Post.
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Reasonable discourse

Frankie from Carroll Gardens says:
I actually have no problem with Mr. Cumbo's decision. However, if the decision for his cafe is going interfere with the regulations for the neighborhood, why can't the two barter and let him have the cafe if he hangs some plants or some flowers, just to add on to the ambiance. As the article reflects about the Dunkin' Doughnuts "garden," I find it a little weird how the article completely missed the other corner and speak of Buddy Scotto's enhanced section with the pond and plants. So bartering would probably be the best situation in solving this conflict. An who knows, maybe the enhanced ambiance can make the cafe better
Jan. 26, 2011, 8:05 pm
Vito B from Carroll Gardens says:
"stunning report in this newspaper?" who makes this sh*t up?
Jan. 27, 2011, 2:02 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
I remember this "garden" being just a plot of unkept dirt with the occasional weed. I'd pass it every time I did laundry when there was a landromat in that bulding. If anything, paving it over and making it into a nice cafe space is a huge improvement. That whole corner was a dump, so stop hendering effeors to make it better.
Jan. 27, 2011, 11:18 am
Anti-Fascist from Brooklyn Heights says:
Wow, who actually owns our houses & yards, the men/women who bought them or the City Of NY and its bureaucracy???
Jan. 30, 2011, 10:52 pm
Anga from Carroll Gardens says:
An acclaimed novelist wants to convert Carroll Park into a piazza where businesses can serve drinks under multi colored umbrellas and this is being considered, but Mr. Cumbo is being condemned by the "guardians" of the neighborhood and this paper who issued "a stunning report" for wanting to use the garden as an extension to his restaurant. What is wrong with this picture. All the more reason for the city to help Mr. Cumbo legalize the outdoor cafe.
Feb. 9, 2011, 4:59 am

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