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Community Gardens Lawsuit Settles

On September 17, 2002, Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced a settlement to the longstanding lawsuit that the AG’s office brought against the City in 1999 in response to the Giuliani administration’s plan to auction off more than 100 community gardens. The nearly 700 GreenThumb gardens throughout New York City have been under an injunction for the past several years, pending the outcome of this lawsuit. The settlement agreement essentially splits the baby. Nearly 200 previously unprotected gardens will be offered to the Department of Parks and Recreation or to a private land trust for continued use as community gardens. One hundred and ten (110) gardens will be sold or developed by the City, and development projects for another 28 gardens that were approved prior to the lawsuit will commence immediately. Going forward, gardeners whose sites are slated for development will be notified in advance, and if the development proposal is approved, they will be offered alternate lots nearby, although there is some concern whether the window of opportunity for accepting an alternate site is too short to be a viable option. In addition, developers will be required to produce a Garden Review Statement as part of their development proposal, providing background information on the community garden. The Municipal Art Society applauds the Mayor and Attorney General for working together productively to break the deadlock between community gardeners and housing developers. The MAS has long battled against the misperception that community gardens and housing are mutually exclusive, contending that both needs can be addressed and balanced. This settlement goes a long way toward striking such a balance, but supplementary legislation in City Council is needed to fill in the gaps and clarify some of the settlement’s fuzzier provisions. City Council Legislation Still Needed In May 2002 (prior to the announced settlement), Council Members Serrano, Sanders and Addabbo introduced a bill in the City Council (Int. No. 206) – drafted by a coalition of greening and planning organizations including the MAS, Green Guerillas, Neighborhood Open Space Coalition, New Yorkers for Parks and the New York League of Conservation Voters, among others – that would establish a rational, citywide planning process to create a balance between residential development and much-needed open space. While some of the bill’s major points were folded into the settlement agreement, there are several important issues not covered by the settlement that could be addressed through the passage of legislation. Specifically, the bill would allow for:
  • New two-year leases for all existing community gardens, and the opportunity for two-year leases for new gardens. (All garden leases were revoked in 1998 when the community gardens were transferred from the Parks Department to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and there is no allowance for the creation of new gardens now.)
  • The requirement that all development proposals for community garden sites go through ULURP, rather than the abbreviated UDAP, which does not provide sufficient public input and review.
  • Designation of “community gardens” in the IPIS database of all City-owned property and other City documents. (Community gardens are currently listed merely as “vacant lots.”)
  • A stronger role for GreenThumb, to ensure its ongoing existence and to enable it to raise private funds to support community gardens.
Currently, the MAS, its ally organizations, and community gardeners citywide are calling upon Council Member Addabbo, as the chair of the City Council Parks committee, to hold hearings on the bill, and are pushing City Council to pass legislation that will put into place a more robust public planning process than that contained in the settlement. To get involved, write or call:
  • The Hon. Joseph Addabbo (click here to e-mail), 250 Broadway, Room 1821, New York, NY 10007
Urge Council Member Addabbo to hold hearings on Intro. 206 and ask your Council Member to support community gardens legislation, which would create a planning process to balance the city’s need for development and open space. Tell them that the Mayor’s settlement is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough to ensure that community gardens continue to thrive in neighborhoods around the city.