QUEENS — A group of Ridgewood residents was so frustrated with a trash-strewn abandoned lot beneath the elevated M tracks that they decided to clean it up, replacing weeds with tomatoes, sunflowers and watermelons and turning the space into the area's first community garden.
But the MTA's New York City Transit Authority, which oversees the space, is now in the process of kicking the group out because its members were never given permission to use the land in the first place, the agency said.
The group said it decided to take care of the space, located between Woodward Avenue and Woodbine Street, not only because it had become been an eyesore and a vermin-attracting dumping ground, but also because the neighborhood lacks and desperately needs green spaces.
“In Ridgewood we have a very strong and resilient community and culture but we don’t have the places to gather and to express that,” said Clark Fitzgerald, 27, a member of the Ridgewood Community Garden.
Last year, the group said, it reached out to the MTA to ask permission to use the lot. Initially, the agency told them it wasn't even sure who the land belonged to, the group said.
“After waiting for over a year for this information … we decided to … go ahead and start to take care of that problem,” Fitzgerald said.
He said local community board and elected officials were supportive of their efforts.
About 15 residents passionate about farming moved all of the trash on one side of the lot and turned the remaining portion — about a quarter of an acre — into a garden.
They also built a gate where the fence surrounding the lot was ripped.
The group received a $3,000 grant from the nonprofit Citizens Committee of New York City that they used for gardening equipment and soil rehabilitation. Local businesses contributed food scraps for compost.
The group built raised beds and organized gardening workshops for the community.
But in late June, after someone illegally dumped debris at the site, the New York City Transit Authority changed the locks on the garden's gate without warning and posted a sign that trespassing is a violation, Fitzgerald said.
“The Ridgewood Community Garden group never received permission to enter or use the lot and they are trespassing,” Marisa Baldeo, a spokeswoman for the MTA, said Friday in an email.
“We’ve asked them to vacate the lot no later than Aug. 3.”
Gardening group members say they are planning to keep fighting for the lot and launched a petition on change.org, urging the NYCTA to grant access to the site and to "ensure its local stewardship through a garden license agreement."
“This place is really important to us,” Fitzgerald said, adding that many plants died since the garden has been locked.
“That’s an incredible community resource and gathering place.”