Gardens

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Nestled in the heart of Middle Village, Juniper Valley Park — which sits between Juniper Boulevards North and South, Lutheran Avenue and 71st Street on the west and Dry Harbor Road on the east — is almost intentionally situated far from the crowds and noise that the subway bring. It’s one of the youngest of Queens’ larger parks, having been created in the 1930s.

Middle Village lies between Maspeth and Forest Hills and was named in the 1830s after its position along Metropolitan Avenue, which was laid out as a toll road between Williamsburg and Jamaica in the 1810s. A roadhouse as well as several small dwellings and farms arrived in the area, which had come to be considered midway between Williamsburg and Jamaica, hence its name. Large cemeteries such as Lutheran/All-Faiths, Mt. Olivet and St. John’s arrived after 1850 or so, and attracted Sunday visitors; restaurants and saloons sprung up in the area to serve the crowds. In time, more streets were laid out and were lined by dwellings.

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Visitors unfamiliar with southeast Queens will find a sweeping, green oasis in Baisley Pond Park, which sits on an irregular plot between Foch, Sutphin, Rockaway and Baisley Boulevards. The park’s 110 acres offer baseball, softball and cricket fields in its southern extension between Rockaway Boulevard and the Belt Parkway, children’s playgrounds, catch and release fishing in its large peaceful pond, and plenty of benches to laze on. This time of year the fall colors are beginning to blaze and the new promenade at the pond rim, with a dozen carven frogs, looks out over the mirrory pond and its collection of shorebirds.

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The Queens County Farm Museum, at Little Neck Parkway south of 73rd Road, occupies 47 acres in the heart of Glen Oaks, Queens, New York as the Agricultural Museum of New York: its croplands and orchards are being used to demonstrate the history of agriculture to students and visitors. The Museum staff and volunteers harvest apples and grow herbs, squash, tomatoes and other standard market vegetables, which are sold from a farm stand on the grounds on selected days during the week.

The Farm Museum holds educational tours and student workshops cover horticultural technology, farm life history and food preparation. You will find friendly cows, goats and sheep begging for handouts, which are provided to you, although there are signs telling you what not to feed them (as fruit tends to ferment in the ruminants’ multiple stomachs).  The Museum is the staging area for several annual events, such old-fashioned county fairs, an annual Native American pow-wow and an antique car show. Consult the Museum’s events calendar for details.

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The La Mesa Verde co-op complex in Jackson Heights, located at 34–19, 34–33 and 33–47 90th Street, is in danger of losing its courtyard. (Like many other Jackson Heights co-op buildings, La Mesa Verde boasts a large central courtyard. Unlike some Jackson Heights co-op buildings, La Mesa Verde is not landmark protected.) The complex owner submitted a proposal to use 60 percent of the central courtyard for a parking lot. They are currently asking for the votes of residents on this decision, so nothing is final yet. Here are details of the current courtyard, according to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal application:

Approximately 42% of the backyard is, and has always been, closed off to tenant use. This is land that has been vastly underutilized (not used at all), and which is available for use, as will be set forth below.

Approximately 18% of the backyard is paved and is currently used for parking, by tenants of the subject premises, as a for-fee service.

Approximately 40% of the backyard in unpaved, open, but unimproved space, with no recreational facilities.

The owner is proposing that 40 percent of the courtyard continue to be open for use by La Mesa Verde residents. According to the application “the areas will now be improved, landscaped, with recreational facilities. This space incorporates most of the areas that had previously been enclosed by locked fences, but the amount of land open for tenant use remains the same.” But here’s the kicker: the other 60 percent of the courtyard will be dedicated parking space. The application states that this will be “improved spacing, [with] landscaped areas within the parking areas.” These additional parking spaces will be available to La Mesa Verde tenants for a fee.

The application tries to press that no actual courtyard space will be lost: “Notwithstanding the increase in parking space, the incorporation of previously-unused space into open space results in the same amount of open space available for tenant recreational use. Thus, the change does not adversely impact upon the tenants on the issue of size or quantity of space… In the instant matter, the change is minimal at best. The tenants at the building will still be able to use the rear backyard for recreation… The proposed new parking areas will also be landscaped, creating a pleasant aesthetic effect. Far from being a reduction in service, the owner’s proposal is at least an adequate substitute, and is actually an increased benefit, rendering the proposed backyard area superior to existing conditions.”

We’ve got our hands on both the layout of the existing courtyard as well as the new parking lot proposal. The application proposes two diamond-shaped parking lots for the middle of the courtyard. (Currently, there is one smaller parking area near the north end of the complex.) In the proposal, landscaping and playground equipment will be added at the north and south ends. There will be one driveway added to the existing two. The existing pathway through the courtyard will be taken away.

The Jackson Heights Beautification Group has fought to landmark this building to no avail. Here are some details of the complex, built in 1926, from the “Request for Evaluation” form sent to the LPC back in 2008:

The complex is made up of six detached buildings, connected by sky-bridges, located between 90th and 91st Streets, between 35th and 34th Avenues. The buildings are set at an angle to the street grid, and form a saw-tooth pattern down both blocks. They enclose a large internal garden courtyard, similar to the garden apartments built by the Queensboro Corporation. There are no interior hallways at the La Mesa Verde; all apartments are reached directly from the open stairs. There is only one elevator for these six-story buildings. Tenants on higher floors ride the elevator up to the roof, then walk across the sky-bridges to their buildings, and then walk down the stairs to their apartment.

After the jump, you’ll see both the existing and proposed courtyard layouts.

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The Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, Merrick Marsden Neighbors Association (MMNA), and 596 Acres worked together to establish a permanent community garden on the corner of Foch and Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica. The Merrick Marsden Neighbors Association maintained the space since 1967, but over the summer they almost lost the land when New York City placed liens on the property for back taxes owed. MMNA needed $18,000 to pay off the final tax lien and back taxes to make property free of taxes forever. 596 Acres offered free legal assistance to MMNA and the land was successfully transferred to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust. The papers were signed, making it official, just last week.

Above is an image from a work day held at the community garden over the summer. The residents plan to start growing food for the community here.

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Richmond Hill residents are launching a new community garden called “Love, Life and Liberty” which is centered around cancer wellness. The 2,075-square-foot parcel, at the corner of 107th Avenue and 124th Street, is city owned and has been vacant for 25 years. Residents are taking over the space with plans to grow anti-cancer herbs, flowers and plants. They also hope to cultivate conversations about cancer wellness, and are designing a community mural with an female artist who has lost her father to cancer.

The group is currently working with GreenThumb and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services with a goal to launch with a fundraising garden party on March 8th, 2014. If you are interested in helping get this community space off the ground, sign up here.

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596 Acres is eyeing a desolate stretch of Astoria right next to the Riker’s Island Bridge for possible community use. Folks started organizing around some empty space on the block, which looks to be half occupied by an industrial facility and half vacant and heavily overgrown. The city does have some jurisdiction over the area, and has reported that “If there is a community need being fulfilled, and if sponsored by a local group, then it is possible that they will approve a new project for the community on their land.” Sounds exciting! If you’re interested in organizing around this potential community space, go right here. GMAP UPDATE: The above photo has been updated to reflect the exact parcel on this block residents are organizing around. This lot is fully vacant, although it is heavily forested.

Photo via OASIS Map

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Meandering around Astoria the other day, we stumbled upon this beautiful, huge community garden between 8th Street, Astoria Boulevard, and 30th Avenue — the Two Coves Community Garden. Inside the garden there’s a significant space fenced off and under construction. A woman on-site told us the Parks Department is constructing a “gathering area” within the park featuring a shady area with seating and a water feature. She couldn’t tell us when the project would actually wrap, and mentioned problems with the contractor. Actually, over the summer Two Coves started a petition about the space in question. Here’s what it says:

On March 26, 2012, city contractors fenced off our gathering area for construction of a shade structure, food preparation area, and water feature. They predicted the work would be complete before the end of the 2012 growing season, and promised to finish by March 2013. Months later, we are told that all the work was substandard and must be redone. Yet no work or repairs have been done this year. The construction site is unsightly. The weeds inside the fence are spreading into the volunteer-maintained parts of the garden. The construction site blocks the view across the garden, making the whole public space feel unsafe and unwelcoming. What is most frustrating: the Parks Department has refused to tell us when the construction will be finished.

The park is a volunteer-run garden on city-owned land. The lady we spoke with seemed to think the construction site would remain throughout the off season, possibly until next summer. The rest of the garden space remains open to the public during weekends. GMAP

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Since 2007 City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has given $130,000 of city money to the Friends of  Sunnyside Gardens Park, a non-profit organization that runs the 3.5 acre private park in Sunnyside. The park, created in 1926, has a grass playing field, tennis and basketball courts, a running track, a wading pool and play areas for children. Membership is open to anyone living in certain zones within Sunnyside and an annual membership for a family costs $335. The money came from member items, funds that the council members can spend at their discretion. However these funds are only supposed to go to non-profits that will spend the money for the public benefit. A strategist for Bill Thompson, a rival for the Democratic nomination for mayor, told the New York Post, “The continued lack of accountability over public money by Speaker Quinn is disgraceful.” However, Quinn’s spokesperson said that the funds went to “neighborhood upgrades all residents enjoy.”

Furor Over Quinn’s Boo$t to Private Park [NY Post]

Photo by Hobo Matt