The Daily Dirt: Lesson learned on community gardens

Garden lovers reneged on pledges to give parcels back for housing

(Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal; Getty)
(Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal; Getty)

No good deed goes unpunished.

It’s a lesson that city government has been taught many times, and occasionally learns — the hard way.

Take community gardens.

These green enclaves popped up across the city when the city was struggling to redevelop all of the property it had seized from owners who felt it was worth less than the taxes they owed.

For our younger readers, that was common in the 1970s and 1980s, when the city seemed to be falling apart and directors made films like “Fort Apache, The Bronx” and “Warriors.” In the latter movie, a gang leader proposes to his rivals that they call a truce and share control of the city, given that they outnumber police three to one.

This was also before the rent stabilization law was changed to facilitate substantial rent increases and deregulation, which gave landlords more reason to invest in their buildings (and drive out tenants locked into low-rent leases).

Buildings deemed beyond repair were condemned and razed, leaving empty lots dotting the city. Some lingered for years because of city bureaucracy, tough economic conditions and other factors.

Ambitious community residents came up with a brilliant idea to make use of the vacant land, which was damaging their property values and quality of life. They proposed turning them into community gardens until the city was ready to have them developed. The city agreed.

But in many cases, years passed and a constituency developed around the gardens. When the economy improved and the city finally proposed to put housing on the sites, gardeners refused to give them up. In some cases they physically blocked bulldozers, but hiring lawyers proved to be the better strategy.

Another reminder of this phenomenon came this week, when the state’s highest court ruled on the Elizabeth Street Garden in Little Italy. As in almost all the previous cases, the justices sided with the city’s effort to build housing, in this case for low-income seniors. But the gardeners’ litigation delayed the project, which developer Pennrose has pursued since 2017, for at least five years. At one stage of the fight it took a state judge two years to make a decision.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that because of the legal challenge, some poor seniors in substandard housing who would have lived in the development will die before it is built.

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What we’re thinking about: Is anyone getting C-PACE loans in New York City to finance energy-efficiency projects with future property tax payments? Email me at

A thing we’ve learned: Someone hired US Speaks to poll New Yorkers on single-family rentals. The key question: “Agree or disagree: Investor-owned single-family rental housing provides working families access to good homes and schools in communities they otherwise would be unable to live in?” The four-question text poll also asked respondents if they view such housing favorably or unfavorably and whether they support or oppose its growth.

Elsewhere in New York…

— The city will give Manhattan families first dibs at six of the borough’s most popular high schools, Chalkbeat reports. Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Millennium High School, the Clinton School, NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, the Museum School and Baruch College Campus High School will set aside 75 percent of their seats for students who live in the borough. In 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio eliminated a similar policy that gave families from Manhattan District 2 preference at sought-after schools in the borough, aimed at helping to reverse racial and economic segregation in city schools. Some families complained that scrapping the policy meant their children couldn’t attend school near their homes. School Chancellor David Banks described his new policy as a “reasonable middle ground” that provides some geographic preference.

— A new Siena poll found that 45 percent of registered voters in New York support Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to indefinitely pause congestion pricing, Politico New York reports. Another 23 percent opposed her move, while 16 were in the middle and 17 percent offered no opinion. Surprisingly, these numbers do not correlate with party lines. “There’s little partisan difference when it comes to Hochul’s end-of-session surprise decision to put congestion pricing on hold,” Siena spokesperson Steve Greenberg told Politico. “It is supported by 46 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents.”

— The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Thursday dropped charges against 31 people who were arrested in connection with seizing and barricading a building on Columbia University’s campus in April to protest the war in Gaza, NBC New York reports. Prosecutors said it would have been “extremely difficult” to prove those cases, as some defendants wore masks and surveillance cameras were covered up. Officials offered to drop charges against the remaining 14 defendants if they aren’t arrested in the next six months. Those suspects rejected the offer, citing solidarity with the pro-Palistinian movement, and are slated to appear in court in July. 

Many thanks to Kathryn Brenzel for compiling today’s “Elsewhere in New York” items.

Closing time

Residential: The priciest residential sale Thursday was $28 million for two condo units at 7 Hubert Street. The Tribeca condo building has 33 units and is 16 stories. The purchased units had sold individually in 2004 and 2011 for a combined $11.2 million.

Commercial: The largest commercial sale of the day was $6.7 million for 351 West 48th Street, a nine-unit apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen.

New to the Market: The highest price for a residential property hitting the market was $10.9 million for a 5,500-square-foot condo unit at 137-141 Duane Street, the Diamond Duane building in Tribeca. Compass’ Hudson Advisory Team has the listing. — Joseph Jungermann

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