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City's Half of LES Community Garden Will Become Permanent Park

By Serena Solomon | June 27, 2013 2:46pm | Updated on June 27, 2013 4:43pm
 Part of the Children's Magical Garden will come under the protection of the Parks Department.
Half of Threatened LES Community Garden Gains Protection
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Half of a beloved community garden that was threatened by development will permanently be protected as city park space, officials announced Thursday.

After an outcry from community gardeners and elected officials concerned about the imminent loss of their three-decade old green space, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development has agreed to turn over its half of the 2,500-square-foot Children's Magical Garden at Stanton and Norfolk streets to the Parks Department, officials said. 

"The decision was based on the overwhelming desire of the community to keep these...city-owned lots as gardening space; a position voiced and strongly supported by residents, Community Board 3 and the area's elected officials," the HPD said in a statement.

The move came after developer Serge Hoyda of Norfolk Street Development LLC, who owns the other half of the lot, erected a fence around their portion of the property last month in what community gardeners feared was the first step toward destroying the cherished open garden.

The HPD, which had intended to convert their part of the space into affordable housing, plans to begin the process of transferring its part of the garden to the city's Parks Department, so that it will remain a community garden space instead, officials announced in a statement.

The HPD does not plan to negotiate with Hoyda to buy the remaining property, officials said.

"We do not have the budget, nor do we have the budget authority to purchase private property for use as gardening space," HPD said.

A spokesman for the city's Parks Department said in a statement the garden is "a true asset to the community" and that the space would continue to be a "vibrant community garden."

Community gardeners praised the deal, though they still hope to convince Hoyda to give up his part of the lot or participate in a land swap in which the city would give Hoyda another block of land in exchange for the full Children's Magical Garden. 

"It is a great step in the right direction and it shows the city understands the vital importance of this garden for the children and the wider community," said garden director Kate Temple-West.

"But we believe there is a greater solution that we and the city can come up with to protect the whole garden."

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, whose office helped the gardeners negotiate with the HPD and Hoyda, called the decision a "major victory."

"Gardens teach us the value of hard work and perseverance, and it is in this spirit that we have together rallied, marched and made our voices heard fighting to protect this invaluable green space," Chin said in a statement.

On Tuesday night, Community Board 3 unanimously voted to support the volunteers at the Children's Magical Garden as they seek a "creative solution" for the entire garden to remain permanently accessible to the community.