Brooklyn Daily Eagle
OPINION: Community garden members seek to save towering willow
By Raanan Geberer
Sept 15, 2017
Members of a community garden in Weeksville are seeking to raise money to ensure the survival of a portion of their garden which, because of a fluke of the city’s tax and legal systems, now belongs to a private owner who has slated it for development.
The Imani Community Garden, at 87-91 Schenectady Ave., was built on three lots. The middle lot, the one in question, is important to gardeners because it contains an 80-foot-high, 80-year-old willow tree, which would be destroyed if the new owner decided to build on the site. It also contained a chicken coop and a chicken run until recently, although these have been moved to a side lot.
According to advocates for the garden, Imani was established by a local church-affiliated nonprofit on what were then three vacant lots. In 2001, as part of its policy of buying local community gardens to save them from development, Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project bought the two side lots but, because of an error, failed to realize that there was a third lot on the garden property.
According to Greg Todd, facilitator at the garden, the church-affiliated group paid property taxes on the middle lot from 1980 to 2001 and never applied for a tax exemption, even though they could have done so. By 2003, the directors of the original organization had died or moved on, and no one responded to the city’s request for taxes on the lot.
By 2015, back taxes totaled about $11,000, and the city sold the lot at a foreclosure auction to investor Herman Stark for $365,000. Stark, in turn, sold it to developer Mendy Deutsch last year for $500,000. Deutsch has agreed to a swap with one of the other two lots, a deal that would save the willow tree. However, according to Todd, Deutsch wants $200,000 to do the swap.
The garden is holding a fundraiser at the Brooklyn Ethical Culture Society, 53 Prospect Park West, on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. with $20 admission. If and when the garden raises enough funds for the land swap – or to buy the middle plot outright – the garden would donate the plot to the New York Restoration Project, so the three plots would now have the same owner and the garden could continue within its original footprint.