Crown Heights Community Garden to Be Razed as Neighborhood Blooms
CROWN HEIGHTS — Three years ago, the plot at 730 Franklin Ave. was a dumping ground for bedbug-infested mattresses and broken refrigerators. There were more rats in the trash-strewn lot than people, and pedestrians crossed the street to steer clear it.
Then Stacey Sheffey bought a padlock. A week later, she and a handful of volunteers from the Crow Hill Community Association cleared out the garbage, weeds and dust, turning the long-vacant plot into a miniature urban oasis.
But at the end of May, all of that will be gone. Late last week, the association learned the plot — known as the Crow Hill Community Garden — was being sold out from under them.
"We always knew this could happen," Sheffey said, as she savored a last lazy afternoon under the yard's towering mulberry tree. "When you clean up something and make it nice, somebody wants it."
Though the lot had sat vacant since the mid-'80s, property records show it changed hands several times, most recently in 2008, when California-based Vithal Dande snapped up the empty space for $60,700.
Sheffey said Dande approached her last Thursday and told her the garden would have to be razed to accomodate soil testing conditional in the sale.
When he asked how long it would take to clear the space, Sheffey asked for a month, but she said Dande only gave her a week.
"It's like no notice," Phillip said. "It would have been nice to let them rock out until the end of the summer, let the summer activities happen, let the kids have a chance to say goodbye."
Dande did not return calls for comment.
Proponents say the garden has become a victim of its own success — as the once-blighted neighborhood has bloomed around it and real estate prices have soared. Local realtors began using the garden as a selling point to lure new tenants to this block of Crown Heights, proponents said.
"I think the community garden has brought a lot of people together — people started to take care of their neighborhood a little bit more," said Garnett Phillip, a longtime resident and co-owner of the popular sweets shop Candy Rush, which faces the garden.
Phillip said she understood the appeal of the garden would be an inevitable draw for new tenants, but hoped the eviction could at least be postponed until after the summer.
Local organization Art Not Arrests and others have planned a season's worth of activities in the garden, which is at its busiest when the sun is shining.
"I thought, at least we have it for the summer," Sheffey said. "We have so many plants, the Arts Not Arrests project — we have built everything around that this summer."
Though some still hope for a compromise that would let them stay until the end of the season, most of the guerrilla gardeners were ready to say goodbye.
"Everyone who was involved is educated, smart, and understood that we don’t know when it’s going to end, but in the meantime, let’s put all our love in it," Phillip said.
"Of course you’re going to be sad to see it go, because it’s beautiful. But it has to go, because it doesn’t belong to us."