Baltic Street Community Garden’s future is in limbo

The following is a letter written by the president of the Baltic Street Community Garden, Julie Claire, to the School Construction Authority (SCA) regarding the future bulldozing of the Baltic Street Community Garden.

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Dear Ms. Knight, Mr. Maley, and the SCA,

I am writing to you and the SCA on behalf of the Baltic Street Community Garden members. We have a number of concerns regarding both the current and future gardens on the PS 133 site in Brooklyn, and I have outlined them below. We look forward to scheduling a meeting with the SCA to discuss these concerns and questions and to decide how we can best move forward together on these issues. This meeting will be separate and independent of the promised meeting between the neighborhood and the SCA prior to commencement of excavation and/or construction.

Timeline for construction – When is the SCA scheduled to begin construction on their proposal for PS 133? What is the timetable for the current garden destruction? For any of our trees and shrubs to survive, the best time for transplanting is in the fall. Ideally, the gardeners should have until October or November before anything needs to be removed.

90 days notice – Regardless of when the excavation on the current garden site begins, we are asking the SCA for 90 days notice, so we will have time to locate and coordinate new homes for all the plants.

Moving trees/plants, etc. – The task of moving all living things as well as salvageable materials out of this 6500 sq ft garden is a time intensive and significant job. We request professional help in accomplishing this at the expense of the SCA.

Loss/Value/Financial Compensation – There is no way for the SCA to compensate the community for our impending emotional, historical, and environmental loss, so we are left with questions on the financial loss. The value of the current garden is well over $750,000 including the plant value itself which is possibly as high as $75,000. This is what the SCA is taking away from the neighborhood by building on the garden site.

–What is the value of the new garden the SCA has mentioned they will build at less than half the size of our current garden? If it is a lesser value than what we have now, how will the SCA compensate the community for this loss?

–The figure above does not include the loss of all of the 20+ year old trees ringing the playground, which will be destroyed in order to build the school. Once these are cut down, there will not be a single mature tree anywhere on that block for another 25 years, and they are some of the only trees along 4th Avenue in our area. Has the SCA explored any plans to preserve these mature trees on the site? If not, what trees is the SCA planning on planting for the neighborhood on or around the school site upon completion of the construction?

–Several of the gardeners have put significant personal investment in the garden through the years. Most or all of this personal investment may be lost in the transition, which represents quite a financial loss to some gardeners. How can those gardeners be compensated for this financial loss?

Hardscaping, etc – We would also like to know what will happen to all of the bricks, lumber, and metal supports, etc in the current garden? They belong to the community. We would like to think of ways to utilize them around the neighborhood or in other community gardens with funding and labor provided by the SCA.

Toxic Contamination – We request a detailed plan from the SCA outlining exactly how they intend to create a new garden on top of this freshly excavated, deeply contaminated site– one that will be free of the present soil contamination and toxic vapor plume, safe enough for growing food, and safe enough for the children, teachers, and neighbors who will be working in the soil.

Input in new garden design – We are pleased to work with the SCA to develop the new garden design. How do we know that the garden we design together will actually be built at the end of the three year construction period? What is the best way to guarantee input from the current community garden members into the design?

Garden Designer – The Baltic Street Community Garden was originally designed by landscape architect, Lee Weintraub. For the sake of continuity in the neighborhood, we request that Mr. Weintraub be hired to create the new garden design, in partnership with the current Baltic Street gardeners.

Garden permanence – The SCA’s support for the new garden’s permanence is a really important piece to this picture. Guaranteeing permanence is the only way that we can make sure that future investment in the garden is not lost and that we do not have to renegotiate the moving process for a fourth time in the garden’s history. My understanding is that we will need to work with other city agencies to take jurisdiction over the property. How can we guarantee that the new garden exists in perpetuity, especially considering that it will be on DOE property?

Alternate garden site – The building of the new school and finalizing of the garden site will take at least three years. The size of the new garden is less than half of the existing garden. Because of the dimensions and location of the new garden and the height of the buildings surrounding it, the new garden will get a limited amount of sun. As a result, the variety of plants able to survive in such a shady garden is limited, and it may preclude growing much in the way of food. For all of these reasons, the Baltic Street Gardeners would like to seek an additional site in the surrounding neighborhood that we can cultivate into a new community garden, primarily for food growing. We ask for your help in finding a new site that we can transform into a place of beauty and urban agriculture.

In sum, we want to limit the long term impact as much as possible from the loss of the Baltic Street Community Garden and ensure that the substantial public and individual investment that has been made will be honored. We believe this can happen through our role in helping to design and protect the new community garden space next to the school; through a planned and well-communicated transition from the existing Baltic Street Garden with 90 days notice; through compensating individual and community loss of the garden; and through creating an additional garden site in a sunnier location that will also be protected in the future. The Baltic Street Community Garden can not be replaced, but with the SCA’s help we can move forward to continue providing the community with much needed open space, food resources, and much more.

At the recent City Council hearing on the PS 133 proposal, the SCA acknowledged the importance of this community garden and promised to work with the community in finding ways to account for the significant loss. Based on the SCA’s statements at the hearing, we are expecting full cooperation and good-faith efforts to work with community members.

Sincerely,

Julie Claire

President, Baltic Street Community Garden

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