Volume 80, Number 10 | August 5 - 11, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Parks chief: ‘We like the gardens’

By Albert Amateau

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe reassured community garden advocates on Wednesday that the proposed new rules for governing the 282 gardens under the Parks Department’s jurisdiction will not threaten the green spaces’ existence.

In the East Village, where many small neighborhood gardens have become a focus of community action over the years, garden advocates have become anxious about the rules being drafted to replace the 2002 city-state agreement that expires Sept. 17.

A hearing on the new rules will be held at 11 a.m. Tues., Aug 10, at the Chelsea Recreation Center, 430 W. 25th St.

Garden advocates were upset because the proposed new rules omit reference to “preservation” of the gardens, which is included in the agreement about to expire. They hoped that new rules would designate the gardens with the word “permanent.”

“We’re open to the possibility of changing language, if it’s better, to sound friendly,” Benepe said. But he added that it was not possible to designate the gardens as permanent.

Nevertheless, he denied charges by some groups that the new rules were a preparation for a “land grab” by developers. Benepe insisted that the proposed rules offer more and stronger protection to the gardens than the expiring agreement.

Under the old agreement the city had to notify one “gardener of record” and the local community board to start a process to transfer a garden to non-garden use. Under the new rules the city has to notify two gardeners of record, the community board and the local city councilmember, and post a notice near the entrance to a garden to be transferred to non-garden uses.

The original garden settlement used the word “preservation,” but still set guidelines about how and when gardens could be developed. Benepe noted that no gardens have been lost during the Bloomberg administration, although some inactive gardens have been swapped with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for replacement sites.

Benepe noted that Parks has been consulting with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who suggested this week that the Council would consider legislation to protect community gardens. The Council could do that, Benepe conceded, but such legislation would have to conform to the City Charter, which has specific rules for land use.

In addition to the proposed new rules, any proposal to transfer a community garden to non-garden use would have to go through the city uniform land use review procedure, or ULURP, Benepe noted.

“We’re very much an ally of the gardens,” Benepe said. “They are unique public spaces. Our Greenthumb initiative eliminated the insurance requirement for community gardens; it’s now covered by the department.”


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