Parks Department stregthens garden rules

By Albert Amateau

Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 29 – October 5, 2010

Parks Department strengthens garden rules

Advocates for the 282 community gardens under Parks Department jurisdiction were gratified last week when the department adopted revised community gardens rules that are stronger than the ones proposed in August.

But the new regulations still fall short of the guarantees of permanence that gardeners and garden advocates want.

“The final version of the rules is really better than the first,” said City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, whose Second Council District includes the East Village where many community gardens are located.

“Now, the city ‘shall’ rather than ‘may’ renew a license of a garden that complies with all the conditions,” Mendez said. “But we still have to tackle the issue of permanence, a goal that exceeds the scope of the rules. We can’t give up on the getting the city to focus on the real issue.”

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe made changes in the rules that were originally proposed after input from elected officials, community boards and community gardens groups at a crowded hearing that the Parks Department held August 10.

“We appreciate the turnout from so many passionate community garden activists at last month’s public hearing on the draft rules,” Benepe said. “The Parks Department shares the gardeners’ commitment to preserving these important open spaces and has been actively involved in the success of community gardens for decades.”

The final rules codify practices established in the 2002 agreement between the city and the New York State Attorney General’s Offfice, and strengthen the protections for gardens under Parks Department jurisdictions, Benepe noted.

Under the new rules, Parks must attempt to identify successor gardening groups who could take over gardens that fail to satisfy the criteria. The new rules’ Statement of Basis and Purpose explains that the provisions for transfer and development apply to abandoned and persistently noncompliant gardens under Parks Department jurisdiction. There are more than 600 community gardens across the five boroughs, but the Parks Department has jurisdiction over 282.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the new rules continue and strengthen the state attorney general’s original community gardens agreement, which is about to expire this month.

“The fact that these rules will now guarantee that as long as a community garden remains in good standing it will be preserved and protected from development is a big victory for all of our neighborhoods, and is just one of the things my colleagues and I called for when I testified at the Parks Department hearing back in August,” Quinn said.

Quinn acknowledged that the rules could be repealed by future administrations. However, she said, “I will continue to pursue other strategies to achieve longer-term protections.”

Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, of the Eighth Council District, covering East Harlem, Manhattan Valley and the Bronx’s Mott Haven, who is head of the Council’s Parks Committee, said the new rules are a major step forward in the protection of community gardens, “even as we continue to explore strategies that will make these gardens a permanent part of our neighborhoods.”

Karen Washington, director of the Garden Coalition, said the rules appear to answer concerns of gardeners.