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Gowanus Residents Who Fought Community Garden Want to Build Their Own

By Leslie Albrecht | November 27, 2013 6:55am
 Residents of President Street between Third Avenue and Nevins Street want to turn an empty lot into a public garden.
President Street Residents Plan Garden
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GOWANUS — First they battled a community garden, now they want to build one.

President Street residents who fought a plan to turn an empty lot on their block into a vegetable patch now hope to build their own green space there.

Locals want to create a leafy oasis where neighborhood workers can eat lunch, children can play and seniors can crochet while chatting with friends, neighbor Ivan Rodriguez said. The new garden would have seating areas and flowers, but no beds for growing produce.

"I’m hoping it will be our community backyard, a place where people and businesses from around the block will interact," Rodriguez said.

Just a few months ago, he and other neighbors were collecting signatures to stop the gardening group A Small Green Patch from taking over the derelict, city-owned lot at 503 President St., between Third Avenue and Nevins Street.

A Small Green Patch had tilled the soil for years on Bergen Street and Fourth Avenue, but they needed to find a new location because the Bergen Street lot was slated for development. The green thumbs selected 503 President St. — but neighbors said no.

Residents said they were given almost no warning that A Small Green Patch was moving to their block, and they worried the vegetable-growing garden would attract hungry rats, trash and strangers to their clean, close-knit block.

Ultimately the neighbors prevailed and A Small Green Patch abandoned the President Street proposal and set its sights on 1187 Fulton St. in Bed-Stuy.

But the experience planted the seed of an idea among President Street residents.

Longtime residents of the block had watched over the empty lot for years, even laying sod and planting wildflowers to keep it looking pretty. When they realized they could submit a proposal to the city to turn the lot into a garden, they seized the chance.

Rodriguez and his neighbors have collected 170 signatures supporting their garden vision. They've also received letters of support from the diverse array of businesses in the neighborhood, including Monte's restaurant, an ironworks firm and a local private school.

The group recently got initial approval for its garden plan from the Community Board 6 parks committee, and they're submitting an application to the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which owns the land. They're also applying for sponsorship from the Parks Department's GreenThumb program.

Both newcomers and people who've lived on the block for decades have united in their quest to transform the fenced-off lot into a "place of respite," Rodriguez said. The green space will have flowers, but no vegetables that could be food for rodents.

"People are eager and like the concept," Rodriguez said.

"The land has been vacant for 25-plus years, and it's really been not productive. This is a plan with  a lot of support from the community, and it would be a positive, useful thing."