Volume 17 • Issue 22 | October 22 - 28, 2004

Gardeners fight B.P.C. ouster

By Ronda Kaysen

Liberty Community Garden green thumbs might not have any soil to till, if the Liberty Court board of managers terminates a written agreement for two “islands” located between Liberty Court Condominium and the Rector Place playground.

The management of Liberty Court condos in Battery Park City agreed at a September board meeting to send a letter to the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, which oversees the community garden, informing the conservancy that they intend to terminate the agreement on Nov. 12, according to sources close to Liberty Court. The two-year agreement, which expired recently, was negotiated by the Battery Park City Authority and signed after the gardeners lost their original plots to a temporary Rector St. bridge over West St. after Sept. 11.

“The gardens, which have been around for 15 years, will be gone,” said Mike McCormack, a longtime gardener. There are approximately 50 individual plots, each maintained to the liking of the gardener, and a long waiting list for prospective gardeners, McCormack said. The garden is not restricted to Battery Park City residents. McCormack plants decorative flowers in his plot in the company of his eight-month old son who offers “moral support” and eats the flowers.

Following the September decision, gardeners launched a letter-writing campaign, urging the condo board to reconsider their decision. “That garden is a symbol of growth and rebirth, it seems so to important to the local Battery Park City community,” said Gary Shigenaka, a marine biologist in Seattle and one of the many letter writers. Shigenaka was part of a Seattle contingent of gardeners that donated compost made from 9/11 memorial flowers to the Liberty gardeners and delivered it to them in person in 2002 for the garden’s rededication. “To have it vanish in the wake of what happened there seems bitterly ironic,” he added.

“To see a garden rise up again and be renewed and rejuvenated gives us hope as New Yorkers,” said Joy Carol, author of “Journeys of Courage: Remarkable Stories of the Healing Power of Community” (Sorin, 2004). The first chapter of Carol’s book is about the garden’s restoration with the help of the Seattle gardeners. “Let the flowers bloom. Why tear that up? Why crush their hope?”

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some condo residents see the garden as an eyesore, according to sources close to the building management. They would prefer to see the island plots landscaped and trees planted in their place. Whatever decision is reached the land, according to zoning requirements, must be reserved as open space for public use.

The Liberty Court board of managers did not return repeated calls for comment.

“Community gardening is a universal activity amongst people who need space to garden. The issue is how to convince the board that this is a positive thing,” said Tessa Huxley, executive director of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, which is controlled by the Battery Park City Authority.

Liberty Garden is unusual in that it is one of only a handful of gardens in an upscale neighborhood. Community gardens are generally the domain of poorer neighborhoods.

“We hope that it can all be worked out and we believe that it ought to be,” she added.

The authority paid to clear debris from the two plots, restore the soil and build a permanent fence. “It’s our nickel, it’s not their nickel,” said Tim Carey, president and C.E.O. of the authority, referring to the cost of the restoration. According to Carey, the authority has been working towards making the garden agreement permanent. He was unaware of the board’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

Anthony Notaro, a Battery Park City resident and Community Board 1 member, spent two years on a waiting list to secure his plot. This season was his first as a Liberty gardener. He planted a combination of vegetables and decorative plants. “We really want to work with [the board] and see if we can preserve these gardens because they are a wonderful part of our community,” he said.


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