Activists Start 24-Hour Watch on Disputed Community Garden Lot
LOWER EAST SIDE — Residents and advocates hunkered down in a Lower East Side community garden this week, vowing to remain around the clock to keep an eye on an adjacent lot that is slated for development.
Members of the Children’s Magical Garden, at Norfolk and Stanton streets, launched a 24-hour "garden watch" on Thursday afternoon after discovering that the Department of Buildings had cleared the way for a six-story building to rise at 157 Norfolk St., a vacant lot that used to be part of the garden.
“We’ve been changing watches and walking around the block, keeping a watch, keeping an eye [on the lot],” Kate Temple-West, the garden’s director, said Friday morning.
Garden members were alarmed when they learned earlier this week that the Department of Buildings had removed a "hold" on the 157 Norfolk St. site, which had been put in place in March to give the public a chance to comment on the plans for the new six-story building.
The 45-day hold expired April 27, and the DOB is now reviewing a permit that would allow construction to begin, according to DOB records.
The garden's members believe the fenced-off lot belongs to the Children's Magical Garden after the lot's previous owner, Serge Hoyda, effectively abandoned it for years.
In March, the garden's members sued Hoyda in New York State Supreme Court, asking to be declared the property's owner. They also sued the lot's new owner, 157 LLC, which bought the lot in January.
The suit is still pending, and a court date has not yet been set, records show.
Temple-West said she and members of the garden began their round-the-clock vigil after neighbors informed them that an engineer had stopped by and appeared to be checking the property's gas and water lines.
The group set up a canopy in the garden to shelter them from rain as they wait and watch the neighboring lot, ready to document any construction that takes place.
“All I know is that we have to make sure that nothing will happen,” Temple-West said. “We are going to document if there’s anyone coming onto our land. That’s the main thing, documentation of people, of anything happening.”
Garden volunteers will take turn keeping watch until they win a new hold on the construction, according to an email announcing the vigil.
Hoyda, 157 LLC and Horizon Group, which is associated with 157 LLC, did not respond to requests for comment.
The current Children's Magical Garden space and the disputed lot had been a community garden since 1982. Volunteers planted flowers, vegetables and fruit and have long hosted activities for kids.
Garden members were cut off from Hoyda's part of his part of the land after workers he hired constructed a chain and plywood fence through the garden in May 2013.
The remaining portion of the garden is now permanently protected as city park space.