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Speaker Quinn Wants More Protection for Community Gardens

Monday, November 29, 2010

Community gardeners still have reservations about the new rules the Department of Parks and Recreation has drawn up to regulate them. Under the rules, the Department can close a garden that has gone into default. But gardeners and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn say its not clear what that means. They are asking for more specific rules about when a garden's protected status is in jeopardy and more community participation in the default process, which can turn gardens into property for real estate developments.

The proposed regulations replace ones established in 2002 that expired in September. Advocates say the old rules provided more protection for gardens. There are about 600 community gardens on city-owned land across the five boroughs. The new rules only apply to the less than 200 gardens overseen by the Parks Department GreenThumb program.

Members of the Community Garden Coalition say they also want the chance to send in new volunteers to rescue a garden when the city find that it is "in default."

Karen Washington is director of the Community Garden Coalition. She spoke to reporters in front of City Hall before testifying at a City Council hearing today. "To make sure that if there is a garden in default," said Washington, "that not only the gardeners know but the coalition knows that it's out there so that we can help in some way to preserve that garden."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told reporters she likes most of the rules, but still feels they would allow whoever is mayor to shut down a garden and turn it over to a real estate developer for arbitrary reasons. She says that was the problem in 2002 when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. "Our job now is to keep pushing," said Quinn, "where we can reach agreement with the Bloomberg administration, terrific; where we can't and we have the power, we will pass legislation."

The council doesn't have to approve the new community garden rules but could try to block them if the administration doesn't change them.

Quinn agrees with the Garden Coalitions request for more transparency and consistency for rules governing gardens. She and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito said they also support creating a web site that will provide information to the public and include gardens owned by other city agencies besides the Parks Department, in an open and transparent manner.

Gardeners also want an advisory group that can work with gardens in default to correct the problems. They want a review panel that includes gardeners to hold evidentiary hearings and advise the Parks Commissioner about gardens in default.

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