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The inconstant gardener: City saves some borough community gardens, dooms others

Brooklyn Daily
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We guess that’s why they say every rose has its thorn.

The city is uprooting a Coney Island community garden and replacing it with below-market-rate housing, officials recently announced. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development will weed out two adjacent, W. 20th Street gardens used by the Unity Tower Tenants’ Association and the Senior Citizens Block Association of Mermaid Avenue and build an unspecified number of so-called “affordable” housing units there, according to the city.

Officials say they will give displaced gardeners new space within a quarter-mile of their current locations. But it is unclear if the new plots will be the same size, and activists say they will never be the same garden.

“Moving gardens is impossible,” said Paula Segal of 596 Acres, a group that helped gardens fight the development. “When they say they are moving a garden, what they really mean is: We are going to take away this thriving community resource and move it to a different community.”

Gardeners will receive a new yet-to-be-named plot close to their current digs, help moving their equipment, and assistance christening their new patches with topsoil, according to a parks department spokeswoman.

The lots between Surf and Mermaid avenues have been in the city’s crosshairs since at least 2008, when it eyed turning the Surf Avenue site into housing under a redevelopment plan then-Mayor Bloomberg was pushing, according to reports.

The city desperately needs more so-called “affordable” housing options, said a city rep, and free plots of land are simply the easiest and most economic way to meet that need.

“To reach the very lowest incomes is very expensive to do, and one of the only opportunities we have to do that is on city-owned land,” said mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell.

The sites were part of a list of vacant land owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development that the city offered to developers for below-market housing in January.

The city spared 11 Brooklyn community gardens it had previously tapped for development by turning them into parkland — but will raze four other borough plots, including the one at Unity Towers.

In total, the housing department will hand 27 Brooklyn gardens over to the parks department — 16 of those were on city land, but not on the development list.

Representatives from the Unity Tower Tenant Association seemed confused about the news and were not able to comment on the loss of their garden.— with Lauren Gill

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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