Locals Outraged by Bulldozing of a Beloved Garden

By Kristina Skorbach
Kristina Skorbach
Kristina Skorbach
Kristina Skorbach is a Canadian correspondent based in New York City covering entertainment news.
December 31, 2013 Updated: December 31, 2013

NEW YORK—Bulldozers tore through a community garden on Coney Island Sunday, destroying a green space admired by the locals and gardeners.

Boardwalk Community Garden, a 70,000-square-foot lot of soil was used for growing produce for over 16 years. Residents brought in their soil, set up their own gazebo, educated and entertained the children who visited the beach. Chickens and rabbits roamed the greenery.

The space was rezoned by the city earlier in the month, but the sudden bulldozing at 5 a.m. on a Saturday after the holidays, was disrespectful and suspicious, said Aziz Dehkan, the executive director of Community Gardens Coalition.

The City Council approved a rezoning that allowed the city to tear down the garden on Dec. 19. The space is part of the Seaside Park and Community Arts Center project, which has been backed by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz since 2009. Markowitz proposed to allocate $50 million to the project.

In July, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission allowed for the unused Childs Restaurant building next to the lot to be used for the center.

In the cold ocean breeze Monday, members of the city’s Community Gardens Coalition held placards and posters with pictures of the sprawling green garden outside the site. Bulldozers were not operating at the time of the rally.

“If the project has such merit and public support, where is Borough President Markowitz and where are the developers and where is the ribbon cutting ceremony?” Dehkan said.

The center would act as a seasonal amphitheater that could accommodate around 5,100 people. The Childs Restaurant building would act as an indoor entertainment and dining area that would seat around 440 people.

Dehkan suggested that the tax money, which was allocated for the center be used for infrastructure in the community and additional affordable housing.

“We have tried to lift up our voice before the agencies and the organs of city government, the city planning commission, the city council, [and] we were not heard,” said Figueroa Reyes, board president of the New York City Community Gardens Coalition. He added that the community does not oppose the building of this project or any other deserving project elsewhere in the city.

The locals were upset at the lack of notification, and that no signage about the project was put up on the fence around the site.

The office of the borough president could not be reached for comment. On Wednesday, Markowitz will turn over his administration to state Sen. Eric Adams.

A Green Haven for Years

Gardeners like Aleksandr Sokolov, who lives in Brighton Beach, lament the loss of the garden.

Sokolov had been growing tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, onions, two cherry trees, an apple tree, and berry shrubs at the garden for over three years. He said he missed the garden landscapes where he spent his childhood in Moscow, Russia.

“It will be impossible to live here,” Sokolov said noting that all the residential buildings around the site will suffer from noise and traffic. The Seacrest Health Center, a nursing home, stands just opposite of the site along the boardwalk.

Santos Rivera has gardened at the Boardwalk Community Garden for over 14 years. He grew tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, and beans.

“I was here every single day, seven days a week,” Rivera said. He was hurt most by the lack of notice that the garden would be leveled.

Resident and gardener Valentina Musienko, 76, teared up remembering the scene of bulldozers tearing down her favorite gazebo, which she bought for $1,500. Neighbors gathered there on summer nights for barbecues. Musienko had 12 chickens roaming the garden.

The locals rescued the garden after it was left devastated after Superstorm Sandy. Musienko, who was gardening for over five years, said she hauled sand out of the garden using a wheelbarrow.

“I myself took 100 wheelbarrows [full of sand] out of my piece of land,” Musienko said.

Yury Opendik, who watched the scene at 5 a.m., said the locals who cared for the garden still have hope.

“We want to have a garden here, we will rebuild our garden, even after this,” Opendik said after looking over his shoulder at the barren black soil behind a metal mesh fence.

Kristina Skorbach is a Canadian correspondent based in New York City covering entertainment news.