Community gardeners across NYC will rally at City Hall tomorrow (Thursday) morning as they continue to be at odds with the Parks Department over a new license agreement to operate their volunteer-run green spaces.
The gardeners had a similar action planned last month,
but called it off after city officials extended the deadline for submitting relicensing documents to Sept. 20. The city also said they would adopt several of the gardeners' recommendations.
Despite the extension and updates, Charles Krezell, head of Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens (LUNGS), said that two sides are still at odds over several key points that he says are crucial to protecting community gardens and their stewards.
"The license negotiations are not going anywhere right now," Krenzell said in an email. "We met with Parks [officials] on Sept. 5 and they were not willing to concede anything new. We continue to ask gardens to not sign the license."
In April, community gardeners received a new four-year license agreement that they say substantially changes the relationship they've enjoyed with the city since 1978.
According to the New York City Community Garden Coalition, the 2019 Community Garden License Agreement and GreenThumb Gardeners’ Handbook contain additional requirements that are burdensome for both parties, and "which will hinder the community outreach and engagement that are hallmarks of community gardens in New York City."
Krenzell yesterday outlined what he and other gardeners consider the main sticking points:
• The liability issue:
"Gardeners and other volunteers have to assume working at their own risk in the gardens, releasing the city from any possible liability issues. The public is supposedly covered by the city but none of this is spelled out. The license imposes requirements on gardens to clear city-owned sidewalks, which could be construed to leave gardens liable for any injury resulting from sidewalks obstructed by snow, ice, garbage and the like. Gardeners tend to voluntarily keep sidewalks clear out of consideration for their members and visitors, but should not be bound to perform garbage and snow removal. There are three set of rules and regulations that gardens are now required to follow. They are confusing and, in some cases, contradictory. The regulations are not enforceable with the current staff at GreenThumb, leading to arbitrary and selective enforcement."
"Each garden is required to hold two public events a year. The new rules now stipulate that the events must be approved in writing by the Parks Department — even though Parks has nothing to do with the events themselves. This takes away the spontaneous spirit of the gardens and requires more paperwork. We are also afraid it will lead to fees for permits down the line, as per the Parks Department regulations."
"Garden records can be can be audited at any time. There is very little money in most garden accounts and some are just kept in personal accounts. This is looked upon as a push toward making each garden group become a nonprofit, having to file tax forms and more paperwork."
Officials for the Parks Department have downplayed any garden drama.
"These renewals happen every four years and always have small changes based on experiences from the previous four year cycle — this cycle is no different," Crystal Howard, assistant commissioner for communications at the Parks Department, previously told amNY.
The Parks Department has told groups that they won't be permitted to continue operating without signing the new licensing agreement.
The rally starts tomorrow at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood's community gardens are currently hosting evenings during the eighth annual LUNGS Harvest Arts Festival.
Previously on EV Grieve:
City extends deadline for community garden licensing; Monday's City Hall rally cancelled
Community gardeners to rally at City Hall Monday over new license agreement
Concern over new GreenThumb regulations for community gardens