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UWS Community Garden La Perla to Stay Intact Under Land-Swap Deal

By Emily Frost | March 22, 2016 3:15pm
 La Perla will remain open after a deal was reached that's supported by both the city and the private owners of one of the garden lots.
La Perla Community Garden
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The owner of a lot currently housing the center portion of a community garden on West 105th Street plans to sell the property — but not before agreeing to a land-swap deal with the city that will allow the green space to stay intact.

The fate of La Perla — the 24-year-old community garden between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues that volunteers describe as a "fairy tale garden" — remained uncertain for months after the owners of one of the three lots that make up the space announced their planned to sell the land for development. 

Surrounding this privately owned center lot are city- and nonprofit-owned plots that make up the rest of La Perla. Swapping the eastern city-owned plot for the privately-owned center plot will save the garden by keeping the other two plots contiguous.

Andy Stone, director of the Trust for Public Land, helped hammer out the agreement between the two local families who bought the center lot in 1978 and and the Manhattan Land Trust, which owns the eastern lot, he said. 

The deal has been provisionally approved by the city's Economic Development Corporation.


A photo posted by @sofyalilyana on

"It will be sad to see [the garden] smaller," said Elizabeth Hall, a La Perla volunteer for 10 years who described it as "a spectacular garden" at a community meeting Monday. "But it will be great that it gets to survive in some shape."

Bertha Rady, a gardener at La Perla since 1993, said she was still hoping a billionaire would intervene to buy the private plot and donate it to the garden.

"I’m very attached to the garden," she said. "If anybody has an angel who would buy the lot and turn it over to us, I would personally be very happy."

La Perla, which includes vegetable gardens, fruit trees and flowers, has hosted everything from weddings to birthday parties, members wrote in a fundraising letter months ago when they organized to try to buy the center plot themselves prior to the swap agreement.

Thirty members pay a small fee to tend to plots within the larger garden space.

Elizabeth Kellner, her husband Douglas, and another couple, Lizabeth and Martin Sostre, bought the then-vacant lot at a city auction in 1978 for $500. They never developed it and let it become part of the garden when La Perla was established in 1992.  

Over the course of the next 24 years, the two families have continued to pay taxes on the lot and let gardeners manage it. But that's a financial obligation that's become "unbearable," said Kellner, noting that taxes are up to $15,000 a year.

Now in their 60s, the Kellners and the Sostres want to sell the lot so they don't saddle their children with taxes and any other headaches related to owning the 17-by-100-foot property, she said. 

Manhattan Valley in the 1970s was a "drug den" that people were afraid to go near, but the Kellners were "kind of gutsy and we bought a brownstone and we’re still there," she explained. 

However, the neighborhood has gentrified and the Kellners "get calls all the time of people wanting to buy [the lot]," she acknowledged. "I’m not going to pretend this is not a valuable piece of land."

As soon as the swap is finalized, the families will sell the eastern lot — which is currently zoned for a 10- to 12-story building — to a private real estate developer, she said. 

The Economic Development Corporation has already signed off on the swap, Stone said, but the agency wanted to ensure the community also supported the idea. 

City Councilman Mark Levine endorsed the move in a Feb. 18 letter to the EDC. "I believe this swap is the best available solution to allow for the continuation of the community garden currently operating on these lots," he wrote. 

Community Board 7's Parks Committee granted its approval for the plans, and it will go before the full board on April 5. 

The EDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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