Magical mystery buy: New owner purchases former garden lot

Celebrating the winter solstice in the Children’s Magical Garden on Saturday.  Photo by Sarah Ferguson
Celebrating the winter solstice in the Children’s Magical Garden on Saturday. Photo by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON |   On Saturday, a crowd of supporters gathered at the Children’s Magical Garden at the corner of Stanton and Norfolk Sts. to celebrate the winter solstice.

They sang a traditional wassail to the garden’s 33-year-old apple tree, thanking it for its juicy and bountiful harvest.

And gardeners invited people to throw “dream seeds” (actually rye seeds) into the soil of the now-fenced-off lot in the center of the garden, so that their dreams may “take root” in the new year.

But it may take some potent magic to undo the development schemes underway for this contested ground on the Lower East Side.

Last month, The Villager reported that developer Serge Hoyda had filed plans to build a six-story, 70-foot-tall residential building on this small interior parcel, which has been part of the Children’s Magical Garden for more than 30 years.

But when the newspaper contacted Hoyda’s development firm — S&H Equities of Great Neck, Long Island — to inquire further, the office manager responded, “the property has been sold,” though she refused to say when or to whom.

The phone number for S&H is still listed on the plans filed with the Department of Buildings. But the contact given for the owner is Brian Hamburger, who is listed as an agent for the “contract vendee.”

In an e-mail to The Villager, Hamburger said he works for “the new owner of the property,” but declined to name the person or persons, saying they were “out of town with limited access to communicate” until after New Year’s.

But Hamburger’s e-mail address is for the Horizon Group, a Yonkers-based development and investment firm — which also happens to be putting up a glassy 12-story condoplex down the block at 100 Norfolk St.

In that project — which has already drawn flak on the Internet — Horizon apparently bought up adjacent air rights to create a cantilevered design that allows the upper condos and terraces to overhang the more-modest properties on the corner of Delancey St.

In a Web posting, the project’s designer, Soho-based ODA Architecture, describes the swanky new digs like this:

“Peering above its small lot, the 12-story building is combining its mass from the surrounding properties to create a stepping volume which cantilevers over the adjacent low-rise buildings like an inverted ‘wedding cake’ or ziggurat. The unexpected massing, cladded in a glass curtain wall, reflects a paradoxical midblock freestanding building offering striking views and strong interior light exposure for an array of residential spaces — a pendant above the city.”

Will Horizon be seeking to build a similar “ziggurat” at 157 Norfolk St. to overhang the two remaining city-owned lots that make up the Children’s Magical Garden?

In June, the city agreed to transfer control of these lots to the Parks Department for preservation under the GreenThumb program — so Horizon can’t build on them.

But would the city consider selling air rights to these parcels — which bracket the contested lot at 157 Norfolk St. — allowing the proposed new six-story project to overshadow the remaining trees and plantings of C.M.G.?

“That would be terrible, that is not happening!” insisted C.M.G. board president Kate Temple-West.

Temple-West and the other gardeners are still hoping to meet with the new owners and city officials to work out some kind of “land swap” or deal to restore the lot at 157 Norfolk as green space.

“We are still hoping for a benefactor to buy back the lot, or the developer to give back his claim on the lot — because we are still claiming this as our land,” C.M.G. board member Aresh Javadi told the small crowd gathered for the solstice celebration.

“That building is not welcome,” Javadi added. “This is where all our children have been growing fruits and vegetables. This is the most productive land because it gets the most sun.”

In his e-mail, Hamburger wouldn’t say what his client has in mind, though he did say there would be “no commercial space in the building.” He promised to provide more details after New Year’s.

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