Two More Suits Seek to Stop Sale of Gardens

    Two groups have filed separate Federal lawsuits to try to forestall an auction next week of more than 100 city-owned lots being used as community gardens. One suit alleges that the sale would violate the civil rights of minority New Yorkers, who "have dramatically less access to green recreational space than its white residents."

    The lawsuits, which both seek to postpone indefinitely next Thursday's auction, are expected to be joined and a hearing for one suit has been scheduled for May 11 before Judge Allen G. Schwartz in Federal District Court in Manhattan. That suit was filed by environmental groups and Borough Presidents Fernando Ferrer of the Bronx and Howard Golden of Brooklyn, who filed a similar suit in State Supreme Court on Monday.

    A second Federal suit, filed by the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and other garden advocates, is based on an analysis of city demographics and charges that selling the garden lots would discriminate against black, Asian and Hispanic New Yorkers by lowering their quality of life.

    The suit also accuses the city of violating various state environmental laws, city administrative codes and an agreement with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development under which it accepted more than $4 million in block grants to help finance Operation Green Thumb, the program under which many of the community gardens were created.

    While the Giuliani administration declined to comment yesterday on the civil rights actions, the Mayor's aides have long maintained that the city has met all of the legal requirements to sell the gardens. Since the 1960's, the city has allowed residents to transform vacant lots into gardens with the understanding that the properties might one day be sold.

    In the lawsuit led by the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, the plaintiffs contend that the city needs open green space far more than development.

    The lawsuit is accompanied by an affidavit from Andrew Beveridge, a demographics expert hired by the plaintiffs, who says that his analysis of census data for neighborhoods in which gardens are to be put up for auction shows that those neighborhoods have the city's heaviest concentration of minority residents.

    There are nearly 700 community gardens throughout the city. The gardens up for auction on Thursday are expected to generate a wide range of bids. The most valuable properties are in the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan and include a site on East Third Street and Avenue C for which bidding is scheduled to start at $264,000.

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
May 8, 1999, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section B; Page 2; Column 3; Metropolitan Desk