Day in Court

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The state Supreme Court last month ruled against a year-old citywide network seeking to preserve 400 community gardens–and in favor of officials who want to develop housing on several of the city-owned lots. The case has now moved to the state court’s Appellate Division.

The city’s housing department and the New York City Housing Partnership have planned a 98-unit condo on the sites of four lower East Side gardens. To stall the bulldozers, the New York City Coalition for the Preservation of Gardens dragged the city and the partnership into state Supreme Court.

But Judge Jeffrey Atlas ruled against the coalition, saying in his decision that the construction merely replaced housing that had been on the site before. In its appeal, the group maintains that construction on garden land across the city has a tremendous environmental impact.

The appeal has major consequences for the city’s 12-year-old New Homes Program. Currently, as many as half of the city’s community gardens are threatened by city-backed construction projects. To speed up development, the city has granted itself an exemption from its own complicated and time-consuming Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure (ULURP)–which requires community input.

“Obviously this is a massive attempt to bypass public scrutiny,” says Legal Aid attorney David Wheschler, who is representing the coalition “You can’t segment the environmental impact by looking at each project [around the city] one at a time.”

If the coalition wins, the city may have to get a ULURP review of past plans that affect community gardens and look at future plans for their comprehensive effect–which garden-lovers hope will delay construction or force the city to select alternative sites. “We don’t want to stop new development and we don’t want to stop now housing,” says Anastasia Pardalis, project director for the coalition. “What we want is to slow the process so we can have adequate city planning.”

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