At dawn on December 28, 2013, bulldozer crews arrived at a longstanding community garden site on the Coney Island Boardwalk, forcing assembled gardeners off the land and then clearing and grading the site. This followed a hastily approved decision by the New York City Council on December 19th to hand off the land to a developer iStar, which plans a 5,100 seat outdoor amphitheater in Coney Island. In fact, this decision came after the local Community Board had rejected the proposal (see here).
Gardeners are to be relocated to a second community garden less than half its size (30,000 sq. feet vs 74,440 sq feet, according to the Wall Street Journal) that they would have to share with the gardeners already in residence. Many of the displaced gardeners on the site grew foods to feed their families. For example, the same Wall Street Journal article quoted 24 year-old Javier Briones as saying, “I grew everything, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Outraged by this action, community organizations like the New York City Community Gardens Coalition (NYCCGC) have fought back. The NYCCGC submitted records establishing the park status of the garden lot at numerous hearings, but the City has insisted that this Parks Department property is not a “park”. In a comment, NYCCGC said:
In regards to the legality of the community garden, the history reveals who has been legal and where justice needs to step in. The boardwalk community garden came to be after over 10 community gardens were mass destroyed in 1998 during the Giuliani administration. The community gardeners in good faith agreed to be relocated to Parks department land to be protected from development. In 2004 much to their shock and not knowing their rights they were forcibly moved to another location which was inhospitable and also under the category of “to be developed”. We now know that this was against the laws of the “garden settlement” created to preserve community gardens in all neighborhoods. The community gardeners rightfully returned to their homeland, where they are being called “illegal”.
Moreover, the entire Coney Island community may be put at risk by the City’s rushed approval of the project. Hurricane Sandy exposed this coastal community’s vulnerabilities and the City has touted its efforts to study coastal vulnerabilities and develop an informed, strategic plan for post-Sandy rebuilding. However, the approval of the Coney Island amphitheater project on the last day of the 2013 legislative term, shows that these policies can be and are undercut by political considerations.
In response to these actions, the NYCCGC and the Coney Island community in partnership with the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) have joined hands in response to the illicit overtaking of a 16-year old community garden in Coney Island to mount a court challenge to the approval of the amphitheater project by filing a hybrid Article 78 petition and action for declaratory judgment in New York State Court.
On Wednesday, March 5, the NYCCGC and other community groups protested the destruction of this Coney Island community garden and the illicit transfer of the City Park to a private entity for non-park use in a demonstration on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. Read the NYCCGC statement here. The NYCCGC and others will be filing complaints in court in the next two-to-three weeks.
For more information, you can sign up for email with the NYCCCG here.
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