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City in talks to turn over big garden Trust for Public Land seeks to preserve Cambria Hts. plot

The Cambria Heights Community Gardens, on the corner of 227th...

By Adam Kramer

Hidden behind a ratty chain link fence covered with ivy and bushes is a quiet community respite that seems a bit out of place on Cambria Heights’ commercial district along Linden Boulevard.

The Cambria Heights Community Gardens, on the corner of 227th Street and Linden Boulevard, is a place where local residents can get a small plot of land to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of vegetables and flowers.

Now 23 years old after being founded in 1979, the Trust for Public Land is negotiating with the city to take over the lease of the Green Thumb Garden.

“In a sense it softens the street — people get tired of looking at asphalt and want to look at some greenery,” said Jack Thompson, president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association. “As long as people want to maintain the garden, I am all for it.”

But he said if the garden falls into disrepair and people in the community do not want the garden anymore, he does not oppose a commercial building on the property.

Even though the plot is called a community garden, Thompson said the space is not for everybody in Cambria Heights. Residents within a four-block radius of the land are the only people who have rights at the garden.

Thompson has reservations about the Trust for Public Land buying the property. He wants a guarantee that the non-profit will not sell the property someday and is concerned about whether the group will maintain the garden.

The Trust for Public Land — a non-profit organization that buys land to preserve it — took over 62 community gardens from the city in 1999. The 63rd was supposed to be the Cambria Heights garden, but at the time it was not approved by the Queens Borough Board.

“We are available to take it over and have a willingness to save the garden,” said Andy Stone, New York program director for The Trust for Public Land.

He said the deed for the 62 gardens under his organization’s control stipulates that the community garden sites be used and kept as open spaces. In the event the garden does not work as an open space, Stone said, the trust can sell the plot but has to give the city the right of first refusal. Then if the city wants the land, he said, the non-profit must donate the land to the city.

“The non-profit’s mission is to preserve open spaces,” he said. “Selling off the land would be inappropriate.”

There should not be a concern about the organization that would oversee the garden — The Brooklyn and Queens Land Trust, Stone said. Even though the new organization would be independent and not under the trust, it would have a similar mission and be “bound by the same deed restriction.”

Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of Community Board 13, said his group wants the garden’s deed to be reworked to prevent the land from ever being sold. He said he was confident the Trust for Public Land would be allowed to assume control of the plot but could not give a time when the turnover would take place.

“Certainly it is appropriate for the Trust for Public Land to take over the garden,” Hellenbrecht said. “We would like to see it protected from commercial and residential development. We are certainly confident it will go forward and the city should OK the plan.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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