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Three Bronx community gardens scheduled to be demolished to make way for new housing have been given another lease on life—at new locations nearby.

Last Wednesday, South Bronx gardeners and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) reached a court settlement that will relocate Latinos Unidos and Family Group Gardens to a city-owned lot down the street, and Sunshine Garden to the existing Courtlandt Avenue Association Garden. The gardens will be permanently protected and overseen by the Parks Department.

Under the Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan, the existing sites of the three gardens are reserved for affordable housing construction. The city intends to sell them to Atlantic Development Group, which will construct a 167-unit apartment building for low-income and formerly homeless occupants.

Three local gardeners and the group South Bronx Urban Gardeners (SBUG), represented by the Urban Justice Center, filed a lawsuit on November 23 claiming that the city had failed to properly notify the public about a June Community Board 1 hearing on the proposed land sale. In settling the suit, the city acknowledges no wrongdoing.
On November 24, State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten granted a temporary restraining order preventing the city from selling or altering the sites. Judge Bransten acknowledged the “heartache” involved with moving the established gardens, which must be vacated by December 5, but added, “The court is very, very happy indeed that a resolution was made.”

George Torres, Chief of Staff for City Council Member Jose M. Serrano, who helped facilitate the settlement, called it a win for the community. Said Torres, “We can save open space and at the same time build new housing. It’s fantastic.”

Some garden advocates are not so pleased. As part of the deal, HPD is considering developing an additional lot, known as Site 7, which under the Melrose Plan had been designated as open space. “Our plan from day one was a compromise plan,” says Marty Rogers of SBUG, but he calls the loss of Site 7 in the deal “totally unacceptable.”

Aresh Javadi of the More Gardens! Coalition, which has been active in efforts to protect Bronx gardens, calculates that the deal will result in a loss of more than 11,000 square feet of garden space. “I feel like we’ve been swindled by the city,” said Courtlandt gardener Zack Schulman. “The loss of green space in Melrose is tragic.”

SBUG has offered its own alternative “Melrose Community Open Space Homes and Gardens Plan,” which it asserts would preserve more garden space and create the same amount of housing. HPD spokesperson Carol Abrams maintains that the existing plan “balances the need for affordable housing and open space.”
Because Wednesday’s settlement modifies a 2002 deal between the city and state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer awarding permanent protection for hundreds of community gardens, it requires approval from Spitzer. A spokesman indicated that his approval will come shortly.

Urban Justice Center attorney Ray Brescia acknowledges the gardeners’ frustrations but says the new agreement was their best hope. “In the end, this was the only thing that was going to happen,” said Brescia. “The judge wasn’t going to save all these gardens.”

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