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‘Fight to keep the space.’ Caretaker says residents blindsided by city’s destruction of Melrose community garden

The caretaker for El Coqui Liberation Community Garden in Melrose says residents were blindsided when the space was bulldozed over the weekend to make room for a larger project.

News 12 Staff

Mar 3, 2022, 10:34 PM

Updated 839 days ago

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The caretaker for El Coqui Liberation Community Garden in Melrose says residents were blindsided when the space was bulldozed over the weekend to make room for a larger project.
Bruce Rivera, the caretaker of the green space on East 163rd Street and Melrose Avenue, says the community was only notified last Thursday afternoon that NYC Parks was moving forward with a $9.3 million project that had been on hold for years.
“To have it taken away so abruptly, it's devastating,” Rivera says. “We understood that was a project in halt…but we figured we'd be part of the decision-making process."
Crews began work on Sunday by spray-painting lines to mark the new boundaries of the garden space and removing everything outside.
“They had surveyed a certain line, and we were within the line,” Rivera says. “Apparently we were given misinformation and the plan had been changed."
Rivera is the signee on a NYC Parks Green Thumb license agreement, which expires at the end of this year.
He says the community was able to move the aquaponic garden and one of the largest composting stations in the South Bronx.
The construction project is set to add an adjacent multipurpose turf field, dog parks and a path to connect them on the land that was just cleared.
Rivera says he’s not against the plan, but he feels like the community is not being considered.
"We want the city to understand, we want the Parks Department to understand, these are not just numbers and square footage, these are people,” he says. “We have a large immigrant community that comes here, that this ties them to where they're from."
A Parks Department spokesperson told News 12 in a statement that the garden will continue to be "a neighborhood gem" and that it will remain while the new construction takes place.
The department adds, "We recognize the garden's wonderful work in the community and will continue to communicate and coordinate with them on needs and challenges associated with the adjacent construction."
Rivera says the community will meet Saturday to strategize future plans for the garden space. The group then plans to meet with the Parks Department on Tuesday.
"We are not going to let our garden go away, we are going to fight to keep this space open,” he says.
According to the Parks Department website, the planned construction is expected to be completed in August of 2023.


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