Ridgewood garden gone, but residents remain hopeful

By Gabriel Rom

Nestled between two blocks of Ridgewood row houses and beneath the last section of the M subway line lies a surprisingly green, peaceful strip of land.

Members of the Ridgewood Community Garden gathered Monday to clean and to celebrate that bit of turf before the MTA locked the gates and evicted them for good.

The eviction concludes a nearly two-month-long fight between the group and the MTA.

“We’re shocked by the actions of the MTA,” said Clark Fitzgerald, one of the garden’s founders.

Fitzgerald is skeptical of the MTA’s justifications for the closure of the lot, which he says have changed multiple times. According to Fitzgerald, sometime in late June or early July the MTA gave his group contradictory information, first telling them that the park could be cleaned but not used, then saying that the site was unsafe and a security risk. The MTA denies this.

“We have been funneled around the MTA bureaucracy over and over again. They are using any argument that suits them,” Fitzgerald said.

Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the MTA, offered just one: “They were trespassing. Setting up a garden underneath our structure would hamper us from getting to our structure in case of an emergency.”

The agency, he added, has no plans to renovate or build on the land.

As of midweek the garden, which had been completely stripped by the community group, was partially blocked by an MTA vehicle.

The group has garnered support from across the Ridgewood community, but Gary Giordano, district manager of CB 5, while supportive of the project, understands the MTA’s position.

“It looked like they were doing something nice, but if the MTA has other intentions, I get where they are coming from,” he said.

The group has decided against legal action and is now conducting a land survey in the neighborhood, looking for a comparable space and hopes to use eminent domain in order to gain ownership.

“We’ve met a lot of good people through this project and we have strong momentum and we want to keep moving forward with our mission,” Fitzgerald said.

Those behind the garden first envisioned it as a site for both community agriculture and urban rehabilitation—“a simple experiment in neighborhood resilience,” according to a statement from Fitzgerald.

“There was nothing here,” said Morzak Ghali, a Ridgewood resident who lives near the garden, as he pointed beyond its soon-to-be locked gatess “and now it’s beautiful.”

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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