Save the gardens
Two weeks ago, Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks Department commissioner, assured community garden advocates that the proposed new rules for governing the nearly 300 gardens currently under Parks’ jurisdiction would not threaten the green spaces’ existence.
However, garden advocates — especially in the East Village and Lower East Side where there are 35 community gardens — remain anxious about the rules that are being drafted to replace a 2002 city-state agreement that expires Sept. 17; they fear the new guidelines will leave the gardens open to development.
Most troubling, the proposed new rules omit reference to “preservation” of the gardens, which is included in the agreement about to expire. Advocates, in fact, hoped that the new rules would designate the gardens with the word “permanent” — but Benepe says it’s not possible to do that.
Holding out some some hope, City Council Speaker Christine Quin has suggested that the Council would consider legislation to protect community gardens.
While Benepe and Parks officials continue to try — unsuccessfully — to reassure local green thumbs not to worry, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also raising questions about the proposed regulations. D.E.C. officials think that there is, indeed, very good reason to worry about them.
Specifically, Chris Amato, assistant commissioner of D.E.C.’s Office of Natural Resources, stated in a letter to Parks and the Department of Housing Preservation — which is co-authoring the new regulations along with Parks — that the new regulations “could have the effect of significantly diminishing some of the protections currently afforded to GreenThumb gardens.”
Amato, in fact, was the state’s lead attorney in the lawsuit filed against New York City to prevent the sale of more than 100 community gardens, which resulted in the 2002 agreement that has protected the gardens until now. According to Amato, the agreement eight years ago, in no uncertain terms, provided for the “permanent preservation” of nearly 200 GreenThumb gardens. And yet, according to Amato, “[T]he proposed regulations appear to eliminate the permanent protection for approximately 198 GreenThumb gardens provided under the Agreement.”
The 2002 agreement states that these so-called “Offer for Preservation” gardens are either to be offered to the Parks Department for permanent preservation as community gardens or open space, or to one or more nonprofit land trust organizations to do the same.
“Unfortunately,” Amato wrote, “the [proposed] regulations appear to eliminate this important protection by subjecting all GreenThumb gardens, regardless of their status under the Agreement, to potential sale or development.”
It naturally would be expected that the City’s refusal to hold up its end of the agreement would end up in yet another lawsuit over the gardens.
Which begs the question: Why must the community gardens continue to be a battleground? Clearly, these green oases have become such integral parts of our communities. They provide so many benefits — to our health and nutrition (cleaning our air, yielding fruits, vegetables and herbs), to our sanity, to our quality of life and the very livability of our neighborhoods. All of that must surely be abundantly clear by now to our mayor and our Parks commissioner.
Hands off the gardens! Honor the agreement. The new regulations must be revised and rewritten without an ounce of ambiguity or the slightest trace of a loophole regarding the gardens’ complete preservation and permanence.