Thursday, September 18, 2014

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Legal Battle Over LES Garden is Ripe for the Picking

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A battle between Lower East Side developers and the operators of a community garden for children is now heading to court. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

Six-year-old Tristan Wiechers has a really strong opinion about what makes the Children's Magical Garden on Stanton and Norfolk Streets so special.

"They have nice plants, and when I came here before in the summer I used to pick strawberries off the strawberry plant," Wiechers said.

But that garden hasn't been the same since last May. That's when a development company put up a fence, splitting the garden essentially in half.

Norfolk Street Development held the deed for that part of the garden and in November filed for a permit to put up a six-story residential building. But in January, it sold the plot for $3.35 million to a company called 157 LLC.

On Monday, lawyers representing the garden filed a lawsuit claiming the sale was invalid, that the land actually belongs to the people who have operated on it for more than 30 years, the gardeners.

"In New York after a continuous possession of the property is maintained and cultivated for 10 years you become the legal owner of the property," said Benjamin Burry, an attorney for Children's Magical Garden.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the plot, the rest of the garden is still operating.

"It's incredibly important to make sure that the Children's Magical Garden stays alive and stays vibrant, and that the kids have a place to come and continue to plant," said Dave Currence of the Children's Magical Garden.

"It shows me where my food comes from and it showed me how to plant stuff," said one young gardener.

There has been some good news for the garden over the past few months. The remaining land that is not in dispute is now under the auspices of the Parks Department's GreenThumb program, meaning it's protected.

But ultimately the gardeners say they won't stop fighting to get back all of what they say is their land.

"We love this earth, we have tended this earth, and it's a very important community asset, and it's ours," said Children's Magical Garden Executive Director Kate Temple-West.

NY1 reached out to the developers named in the lawsuit, but did not hear back.

The garden's lawyers say those developers have 20 days to respond to the suit in court.

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