Coney Island green thumbs got a rude awakening from iStar Financial’s machines

Coney community garden bulldozed in dead of night ahead of Childs revamp

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Gardeners had hoped to bury Borough President Markowitz’s planned Coney Island amphitheater — but instead got plowed under themselves.

Backhoes sent by a developer destroyed the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island in the early-morning darkness on Dec. 28, in order to make way for a permanent home for the outgoing Beep’s summer concert series.

The gardeners said they had been on guard against the destruction of their vegetable patch next door to the landmarked Childs Building, which is slated to become a new music venue, since the afternoon of Dec. 26, when they said several men claiming to be construction contractors came and warned they were going to uproot the garden overnight. The planters put up a tent in front of the garden and camped out in shifts. But they found themselves powerless when, at 5 am on Saturday morning, a construction crew arrived with earth-movers and broke the gates.

“I get a call in the middle of the night, and they told me the trucks were here,” said Yury Opendik, who had helped organize the growers. “I got here in time to watch it all unfold. They tore the garden apart.”

Workers caged the 20 chickens living in the garden, but the dozens of cats, rabbits, and pigeons gardeners were keeping at the parcel appear to have fled ahead of the machines. Gardeners said the backhoes crushed stuff they kept inside the lot, including a bungalow full of tools and seeds Opendik had built by hand.

“It wasn’t expensive things, but personal things that meant so much more to me than money,” said Opendik.

The People’s Playground planters had hoed the plot of along W. 22nd Street since 1997. The city kicked the growers out in 2004 in order to convert the parcel into a parking lot for MCU Park, then under construction. But the garden was never paved and the dozens of seed-sowers returned without official sanction. Hurricane Sandy soaked the spot and buried it in sand, but the gardeners dug their way out and replanted last spring.

The earth-moving machinery was sent by iStar Financial, which owns the Childs Building. The plan is for the city to pay $53-million to buy the 90-year-old Boardwalk icon and have the developer renovate the space into a music hall and restaurant, turning the Boardwalk Garden and two parcels along W. 23rd Street into seating and a sprawling, landscaped lawn. The developer will then operate the facility at a profit until 2025, before turning it over to the city.

The gardeners successfully lobbied Community Board 13 to vote down the amphitheater plan in September, but failed to prevent the project from breezing through the City Planning Commission and the Council.

The gardeners insisted they were not opposed to the Childs Building project, but said they wanted the city to provide a replacement lot for them to use. Coney Island Holdings, an iStar subsidiary, pointed out that the city has offered the gardeners a stake in another space on W. 29th Street and Surf Avenue, which the company called “under-utilized.” But the planters complain that the proffered parcel is paved, smaller than their current spot, and already home to two-dozen other gardeners.

“It’s a concrete jungle over there,” said Opendik. “It’s not a pleasant place to be, and it’s not a comfortable site for growing vegetables.”

The gardeners said they are considering a lawsuit to stop the project, pointing out city documents that show the space mapped as parkland, which would require state approval for a private lease.

“All options are on the table,” said Aziz Dehkan of the New York Community Gardens Coalition, which is providing the Boardwalk horticulturists with legal advice and support.

Markowitz said he thinks community gardening is generally a good idea, just not where he wants a music venue built.

“I think having the garden is good for the community,” the outgoing Beep said. “We found a location for them, and I think it’ll work.”

The garden’s early morning now belongs to a tradition of pre-dawn demolitions in Coney Island. Mayor Giuliani ordered bulldozers to rip down the famed Thunderbolt rollercoaster between W. 15th and W. 16th streets — made famous in the film Annie Hall — shortly before sun-up one morning in Fall 2000.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him
Updated 10:16 pm, July 9, 2018: Context added.
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Reasonable discourse

David Brown from LES says:
I have no sympathy for the gardeners. The problem with the gardeners is the same as with "Occupy Wall Street" park occupiers, and the artists at 5 Pointz, which is they have a "Sense of Entitlement." Basically we have been here since 1999 (importantly "without City sanction" (if it was, then the fact the "Parkland" was being demolished would have more credibility)) so it is our property (not that of I-Star Financial, the City or anyone else), and we can do whatever we want (despite paying no taxes, rent or anything else), and we will sue for damages over it. They seem to have forgotten that I-Star, or the City at any time, could have closed them up but did not (like the owners of 5 Pointz did not). But those points do not matter to the gardeners anymore then they mattered to the artists at 5 Pointz, and thus, like 5 Pointz with white paint, got their area ruined.
Dec. 29, 2013, 8:23 am
judah spechal from BedStuy says:
Hey Mr Brown while agree that a rightful owner can do what they want w/ their property, I still have sympathy for the gardners.

There was a time this area was undesirable & these member of the community did some w/ a garbage will lot.
Owner's did not upkeep. City mostly failed to fine them.

These folks planted some seeds not concrete.
Allow them to vent.
I am pretty sure they ate the food they produce. Think about that.

Moving on developers seem to have learn smething big from the white-washing of 5Pointz
Dec. 30, 2013, 1 pm
Mitchel Cohen from Cropsey Avenue, Bensonhurst says:
The garden was a joy to the community, and the glue holding it together. At the press conference today, speakers in Spanish, English, Russian, and Turkish all talked about what the garden meant to them. David Brown (above letter) should take a look at the great documentary film, "Zipper", about the billion-dollar boondoggle that land in Coney Island is becoming (or has already become). Indeed, community residents ARE entitled to work together to improve their community and infuse life into the increasingly corporatized environment. Just because a company can garner tens of millions of dollars in our tax credits to evict the community-resident gardeners and set up a for-profit business there is no reason why we should accept that. Hooray to the gardeners, and to the More Gardens coalition.

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens / Green Party
Dec. 30, 2013, 1:48 pm
jane says:
these pictures are devastating. thanks for covering this. I agree with mitchel cohen above.
Dec. 30, 2013, 2:20 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
David, what you said was very appalling. One day this could be your area that a developer targets, and I'm sure you wouldn't like it if someone called you NIMBY. The whole purpose of community gardens was to help neighborhoods come together by creating such an oasis. I wouldn't be surprised if this was to create a lose-lose situation in that are will be screwed either way in that the amphitheater will be built or that they will no longer have a garden even if they succeed. This is just like the Atlantic Yards all over where demolition was made before any final approval and some of the already demolished sites were just left as interim lots while what should go there will be in limbo. As for 5 Pointz at first might have looked like an eyesore with all that graffiti, but later became a work of art as well as an artists' mecca for its looks.
Dec. 30, 2013, 4:25 pm
JAY from NYC says:
As that character from the Simpsons would say "Haha!"
Dec. 30, 2013, 7:02 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I take it that you don't mind your tax dollars going towards a boondoggle like this amphitheater rather than something that really serves the people such as public schools and hospitals.
Dec. 30, 2013, 7:28 pm
jay from nyc says:
You don't own it then you don't get to decide what happens to it. This is not Cuba Tal, but apparently you have not figured that out yet. Squatters don't own squat.
As for tax dollars that is an entirely different issue and a different story, but as usual you attempt to link issues that are not relevant to each other.
Your so called "argument" is like saying because I don't like a particular tv program then all tv stations and cable itself should be banned, and that is a pretty stupid "argument" that only a stupid person would make.
In the meantime Tal, I am still waiting for you to produce evidence that the BDS are terrorists as you claimed. As usual Tal you spout all kinds of nonsense with zero facts to back it up.
Dec. 30, 2013, 11:26 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Jay, I haven't called for any censorship of anyone who doesn't agree. Besides, that's more of your doing, especially whenever you look at that poster of Robert Mugabe in wishing you can be more like him. What angers me right now about this is that the community garden has already been removed when the amphitheater has yet to be built. Then again, that's a the Bloomberg way to declare that a place is blighted by creating the very blight itself, and that's how he proved the area for the Atlantic Yards to be blighted by demolishing some of that proposed footprint years before the project was even underway and leaving them as holes in the ground intentionally. This now comes down to one question. If the amphitheater doesn't occur, will the community garden by returned to the neighborhood in allowing for it to grow back again, or will it just be left as an empty lot for decades to come?
Dec. 31, 2013, 8:11 pm
JAY from NYC says:
Tal you called the BDS terrorists and neonazis and have provided no evidence of that. You think I want to be like Mugabe? Wow you really are a S**thead Tal. Do you even know anyhting about Mugabe? He took land from people who owned it and gave it to those who don't on the basis of race. So now you want to inject race into this? As usual you call people names with no evidence and then complain like a stuck pig when people call you out on your own obnoxious toxic repugnant B.S.
In the meantime the garden people are squatters and have no claim to anything, again Tal this aint' CUBA. Screw them and you.
Jan. 1, 2014, 1:33 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Jay, we are talking about placing an amphitheater in this topic, not some anti-Semitic group that you put on a pedestal. I can see how someone was so naughty to get so much lumps of coal for Christmas, but you probably deserve that just like all the other developers who some of the politicians support. Give me a good reason why there should be an amphitheater there when the community opposed it greatly? How about putting it near where you live since you seem to have never seen a project you didn't like? Then again, you will probably act like a NIMBY to that for being in your backyard despite supporting projects that you live nowhere near. BTW, what was taken was a community garden, which is owned by the community hence public land. On a side note, I can prove more times where you have called for censorship on me when I have never called for any on you, making you the real communist here, plus the BDS is widely supported by the Electronic Intifada, which is supported by Hamas, a terrorist organization that even takes after the Nazis and plans to get rid of all Jews as their charter clearly reads.
Jan. 1, 2014, 4:30 pm
JAY from NYC says:
TAL, Electronic Intifada is a registered 501(c) non-profit, whose IRS 909 forms are publicly available, they receive no funds from any government or political party. The get no money from Hamas and your claims that BDS is supported by E.I. who are supported by Hamas is incorrect.
In addition, if they were getting support from Hamas, you better believe the Department of State would be all over that, and would designate them as a terrorist organization, BUT they have not. Gee, wonder why, maybe its because you are full of S**t Tal?
This probably explains why, despite your moronic claims that BDS are neo-nazis and terrorists, that you have been unable to provide any evidence to support that claim, other than making mere allegations.
You have provided no source to back your claim, you have not shown one check from Hamas to E.I. or BDS, you don't have pictures of cash being dropped off, you don't have a single credible news source to support your claims.
In short Tal, you have nothing but a big mouth, kinda reminds me of McCarthy.
Furthermore E.I.s editor has written and reported for the New York Times, The Guardian and the L.A. times. Yeah, real extremist terrorist organizations there Tal.
BDS calls for non-violent boycotts and is in fact supported by a number of jews and academics, including Stephen Hawkin. Israels response to BDS was to pass a law making it a crime to call for a boycott of Israeli products.
If you think calling for a boycott is the same thing as terrorism Tal, then you don't know the first thing about terrorism.
I would call you a stupid liar, but that would be an insult to stupid liars.
As for the garden squatters, it is not for them to decide what should be done with that land, they don't own it, and that is that. You don't get that, which I guess makes sense since you don't seem to understand basic concepts like legal land ownership, and seem to be under the impression that people who have no claim or title to land, but try to take it over any way should be allowed to keep it.
The community does NOT own this land. Period. Its PRIVATE PROPERTY. Again Tal, this aint Cuba.
As for putting an Amphitheater where I live, there already is one and it does not bother me one bit, in fact I love it and regularly go to it in the summer. If you actually lived in Brooklyn you might have heard of it, but you don't.
I find it hilarious that you call me a NIMBY but also a pro-developer that has not met a project I don't like and also a communist. If you are going to call me names Tal at least make up your mind Tal and be intellectually honest.
As for calling for censorship of you, ok Tal, prove it. Show me where I have stated Tal should be subject to censorship by the government. Come on Tal, I DEMAND you back your claim that I specifically called for the violation of your first amendment rights.
If you can't show me where I called for that, then that means you have lied and are a liar.
Jan. 1, 2014, 7:47 pm
Mom from Clinton Hill says:
Community gardens promote self-sufficiency in food production therefore they must be torn down and replaced by restaurants which foster disenfranchisement and dependency.
Jan. 1, 2014, 8:34 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Jay, you really miss the point entirely on this amphitheater, and stop with the off topic posting and personal attacks. Until any final approval has been given, the community garden shouldn't have been removed at all. There is a very good chance that it won't get the green light to be built at all, but the community will still lose on it because they lost their garden. By what means is a community garden private when it's for the community? I dare you to go over there and tell them that their community garden is worthless, and they will probably respond back by calling you a scab, which probably explains why you are so defensive on this and even so bent out of shape. To quote Al Gore, "You have committed the assault on reason." As for the claim of censorship, you do have a history of telling me to leave through personal attacks as well as demanding that I leave just because I happen to disagree. Also, I only related you to Robert Mugabe, because you do tend to believe that only your ideas should be heard while stopping all holdouts that aren't just like what he does by sending soldiers to shut them down. One other thing, there are calls to stop funding all colleges that call for an academic boycott of Israel in the claim that colleges can't be political centers.
Jan. 1, 2014, 9:01 pm
JAY from NYC says:
no Tal you personally attacked me and falsely claimed that I called for you to be censored in violation of your first amendment rights when I did not such thing. You falsely made this up about me and you have been called out on it.
You also made up stuff about BDS which is also clearly false.
Again Tal, you are typically the first poster to personally attack anyone and then cry like a stuck pig when called on it and then you put up a barrage of nonsense afterwards.
You accuse me of being off topic but yet some how think that an African dictator is relevant to garden squatters in Brooklyn. You are the very persona of off topic Tal.
The community garden could be removed at will by the rightful owners of the property, and that is exactly what they did. The rightful owners do not need to get community approval to kick squatters of their property. Again, you do not get the concept of private property ownership. This is not Cuba.
As for the calls to stop funding colleges who call for a boycott of Israel, those calls are coming from Dov Hikind, and are based on a clearly incorrect reading of NY state law. In short those calls are stupid and put out by stupid people and given credence by stupid people who don't know the law. Try reading the actual law for once Tal.
Jan. 1, 2014, 10:43 pm
Mike from Coney Island says:
Reality is the site was toxic after Sandy. Anyone who would eat or feed their family food from this sand/soil is a fool. Also if you took the time to see the site with your own eyes you would have seen it was more a trash dump than a garden. After talking with multiple Local residence - this site was used iligally by 40 members of the same family and they used it like a private club and on many occasions locals that tried to enjoy it as well were rudly scared away. Good by community DUMP!!!
Jan. 1, 2014, 11:32 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
If that garden was illegal, then why was there one placed there in the first place? Nevertheless, I am glad that they are suing, because it shouldn't have been touched especially before any decisions were made. Some of what I am hearing from the supporters seem to be nothing more than slander or as attempts to downplay the opposition as usual. For the record, I have nothing against those that want to disagree with me, it's those that have made personal attacks at me that I am against especially from those that resort to name calling or calling someone an idiot when I have never used that. Perhaps, some just need to take a break from message boards or just take some decaff at night.
Jan. 2, 2014, 7:16 pm

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