A portion of a community garden that has served children on the Lower East Side since 1982 was destroyed this morning when a developer unexpectedly ordered workers to construct a fence on the portion of the property he owns. After a construction crew hired by developer Serge Hoyda arrived at the Children's Magical Garden on the corner of Stanton and Norfolk, community members attempted to stop the crew's entry into the garden, prompting the developer to call the NYPD.
High school senior Amina Begum currently works at the garden, which she has used since she was in the 6th grade. "It's devastating to see this because I pour out my heart and soul into this garden," she said. "So many kids come over here and make friends and grow up. It's a memory for them."
Garden member Dave Currence told us that there was no warning for the action and that though a fence "was mentioned by them in the past," the garden's members have been in ongoing talks through Councilwoman Margaret Chin's office and believed that "things were being operated under good faith."
The talks were regarding a potential land swap between New York's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Hoyda, which would involve the HPD taking over the Children's Magical Garden, making it's current location permanent, while Hoyda would be given another lot in exchange to be developed elsewhere in the area.
To make the garden permanent is "our only end goal," Currence told us. "This garden's been here over 30 years, and they just came and drew a chain link line through it all of the sudden."
Hoyda, the developer, bought a third of the parcel the garden sits on several years ago, and has argued that allowing the garden to exist on his property is an insurance liability.
A representative from Councilwoman Chin's office argued with a lawyer representing the developer over the legality of the move, but the "NYPD decided on-site that they could put up the fence," one woman who wished to remain anonymous told us.
Rumors of a young boy arrested for throwing stones were exaggerated. When the developer's crew arrived at the garden, the NYPD was not present. Currence said that "the police were called by them as we tried to prevent them from coming into the garden by standing in front of the gate. As soon as we said, 'You can't come in here,' they called 911."
Currence added, "It wasn't like a violent clash or anything." Before the police arrived, some of the private security representatives from Security USA apparently "made some silly threats early on about arresting another 5-year-old kid that was here for trespassing."
When asked why the developer chose to install the fence now, the lawyer for the developer told us that he had "spent 5 hours giving comments" already. When pressed about the construction, he told us, "The park is a safety issue. It's obvious."
[UPDATE] Councilmember Chin's office is calling for the developer to remove the fence. Here's their statement:
The Children's Magical Garden is a community treasure, and we want to keep it in the neighborhood. We understand that the developer has a permit to build the fence; however, such sudden action is not the best solution nor the act of a good neighbor, especially since there have been active, ongoing conversations to come to an equitable agreement. We asked the developer not to put up this fence, and now we ask them to take it down.