Park Slope, Windsor Terrace & Gowanus

Parks and Recreation

Gowanus Community Garden Saved From Development

January 5, 2016 8:42am | Updated January 5, 2016 8:42am
The community garden at 503 President St. in Gowanus as it appeared in 2013, when it was still a vacant lot. The greenspace is one of 34 community gardens recently designated as permanent parkland.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — A President Street community garden is one of 34 greenspaces across the city that have been saved from possible demolition, officials announced recently.

The garden, at 503 President St., between Third Avenue and Nevins Street, is under construction on land that was until recently owned by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Under an agreement announced last week, the garden and 33 others will become permanent public greenspaces controlled by the Parks Department.

The transfer designates the gardens as “parkland," according to 596 Acres, an advocacy group that has been fighting to save the spaces. That means city agencies must get approval from the state Legislature to turn them into something other than open space.

The changeover affects three previously at-risk gardens in Manhattan, one in Queens and 11 in Brooklyn, according to 596 Acres.

"All of these sites we helped people create and imagine a world where their neighborhood was nicer, and they had a space to create with their neighbors,"  Paula Segal, 596 Acres's executive director, told DNAinfo New York last week.

The transfer to Parks Dept. control means the gardens can't be bulldozed to make way for affordable housing — a fate that awaited several community gardens built on HPD land. Gardens created on HPD land are considered temporary, and the agency maintains the right to build affordable housing on the parcels.

That's what happened to A Small Green Patch, a garden on Bergen Street between Third and Fourth avenues in Boerum Hill. When the land was targeted for an affordable housing development, gardeners hoped to move their small urban farm to 503 President St. in 2013. However President Street neighbors fought the garden because they worried vegetables grown there would attract rats.

Neighbors came up with their own plan for a greenspace — one that won't grow food — and it's been in the planning and construction phase since then, said Ivan Rodriguez of the President Street Block Association.

The city filled in the sloping site with new soil in 2014 and garden organizers are now looking for outdoor furniture for the greenspace. Next they'll add plantings to the garden, probably this spring, Rodriguez said.

The President Street garden is being built on a long-vacant lot on a rapidly changing block. A boutique bathhouse opened recently across the street, and down the block is a company that's run bike tours of Brooklyn for Dutch tourists since 2012.

As longtime residents grow older, they're looking forward to the garden as an outdoor space where they can enjoy fresh air. Locals envision the space as a "low maintenance" garden that won't require a lot of upkeep, Rodriguez said.

"This is going to be a respite park," Rodriguez said. "There's a lot of industry in our neighborhood and people need a place to go and relax during the day. In the middle of the block will be a little oasis."