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Man Who Lives in Truck Fights Plan to Turn Neighboring Lot into Garden

GREENPOINT — After climbing out of a pick-up truck overflowing with empty milk cartons and newspapers, Jerzy Sulek trudged past colorful mounds of trash piled on his Franklin Street lot,  yanked open the gate, stepped out to the sidewalk and marched to the vacant city-owned lot next door.

He began to yell over the wind.

"I'm trying to stop them but I can't succeed," he said, decrying a local group's plan to convert 61 Franklin St. to a community garden.

"Of course it'll bother me, I pay to be here and somebody else is just going to get this for free. They have enough public space, put a garden in McCarren Park!"

Sulek — who sleeps in his truck and has a handful of cats that dash around in the weeds, leaf piles and junk heaps on the land he owns at 59 Franklin St. — has been the main obstacle to a proposed renovation of the adjacent unused city lot, advocates of the planned green space said.

"We're trying to build a relationship with him," said Ryan Watson, of Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning, who co-led a meeting Saturday about the garden. "He's not super-keen on having this space next to him where it's been vacant for years... It's definitely something we have to address, but we're not so concerned as to let it stop us."

Watson said his organization, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth of Brooklyn, along with Williamsburg City Councilman Stephen Levin's staff and other neighborhood activists, met with Sulek to address his concerns.

"We agreed that we won't allow [other] animals there, to try to build a relationship with him," Watson said of the "neighborly" gesture made to avoid conflict between locals' pets and Sulek's cats. 

Watson said plans for the garden — which would include communally grown herbs, native grasses and flowers, and even food — were swiftly progressing.

Group members will present the proposal at the Williamsburg Community Board 1 meeting on March 12, and they have also been talking with the city's Department for Housing Preservation and Development about the plan, Watson said.

"The future of the space will depend on what community members like," Watson said. 

A spokesman for HPD said the city agency was in talks with the community group, and that members could get permission to use the space if they received community board approval and understood that access to the lot would be temporary until the city eventually develops the property.

Still, for Sulek — a Polish immigrant who claims he worked for years to buy the land next door, which lists him as the owner in city records — any kind of public park would undermine his property rights.

"It takes money and work to get to Wall Street, and people just started showing up and didn't pay," he said, referring to Occupy Wall Street protesters last year. "The situation with Wall Street and those people is my situation now, on a smaller scale."