February 22, 2000
200 Demand Garden’s Return From Lower East Side Builder
A week after 31 demonstrators were arrested protesting the razing of a community garden on the Lower East Side, nearly 200 people returned to the site yesterday to demand that the city return the space.
The Esperanza Community Garden, on East Seventh Street between Avenues B and C, was cleared to make way for housing and retail development. Yesterday, the protesters questioned the city’s decision to move in on Esperanza when, they said, there are thousands of unused lots around the city where housing can be built.
The demonstrators arrived carrying bouquets of flowers, potted plants and, in one case, a jumbo-size onion. Some beat out rhythms on bongos and drums; others wore sunflower headdresses or carried papier-mache replicas of insects; one man was dressed as a giant tomato.
But Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is unlikely to be moved by such appeals. His administration contends that such lots can fill the city’s need for more lower- and middle-class housing.
Community groups plan to file a motion in court requesting that the city be barred from turning the site over to a developer or allowing any construction to take place.
Some of those taking part in yesterday’s protest said that the developer for the site, Donald Capoccia, had allocated only 20 percent of the planned apartments for low-income housing. The remaining 80 percent will be priced at market rate.
”This is not a struggle between low-income housing and gardens,” said Dave Powell, a tenants’ advocate for the Metropolitan Council on Housing, as he addressed the crowd. ”It’s a struggle between the long-term interests of community residents and the shortsighted interests of a developer.”
Two dozen police officers watched as the crowd moved slowly east from Avenue B and stopped in front of a tall wooden fence erected in front of the former garden site. There, they placed devotional candles and seed packets on the sidewalk and chalked messages on the fence, one of which read, ”Free the Land.”
Photo: Demonstrators yesterday questioned the city’s decision to raze a community garden on the Lower East Side to make way for housing. Sam Sharman lifted his nephew, Kris Torres-Medina, 4, to see the garden. (Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)