Residents suggest Van Nest community garden

A neglected lot on Amethyst Street may become a community garden if a proposal by a local activist is approved by the city.
Arthur Cusano

A vacant lot that has sat as an eyesore for decades may have a second life as a community garden, but only if city officials go along with the plan.

Area resident Richard Vitacco first proposed turning a lot on the 1900 block of Amethyst Street adjacent to a train line and bordering Rhinelander Avenue and White Plains Road into a garden back in 2009 in a letter to the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

“The initiative was to make it (the lot) better than it already was,” he said. “There is just a lot of debris, dumping that’s going on inside of it, graffiti on the concrete bunker that supports the train and it’s totally overgrown, just urban blight that’s taking pace there.”

Vitacco, who is also the president of the East Bronx History Forum, later got Community Board 11 to approve a plan he had submitted in 2014, which was rejected by the city this past June.

He re-submitted the plan in October, this time with letters of support from Councilman Ritchie Torres and Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj.

However the response from GreenThumb, the city organization that handles green projects, was still ‘no’.

“They claim the lot is adjacent to the MTA number 5 line, which it is, but that fact has neither stopped Bissel Garden nor La Finca Del Sur (a south Bronx farm co-op) from creating their community gardens,” Vitacco said.

Vitacco and other supporters were scheduled to meet with GreenThumb again Thursday, December 22, which gave him hope that this time the decision may be different.

“GreenThumb is going to literally measure the lot to see if it is acceptable for a garden,” he said.

Vitacco said the DCAS had no problem with having the lot converted to a garden, but that the NYC Parks and Recreation Department may be less that enthusiastic about the idea.

“Parks’ concern is [whether] it’s big enough and is there enough land to use and is it safe considering it abuts the concrete bunker for the number 5 train,” he said.

He argued the amount of graffiti found on the train overpass shows the site is not being managed properly and is an eyesore for the community and was ripe for revitalization.

“However small it is, from my perspective the garden plan is better than what it is right now, which is an empty patch of land,” he said.

Torres and Gjonaj continue to support the project, and letters from the two community leaders were resubmitted with the newest request.

Torres argued in his letter that the proposal had substantial support from CB 11 and heavily engaged civic associations and not-for-profits in the community.

“In addition,” Torres stated, “according to your own records, GreenThumb does not currently operate any gardens in CB 11 and so the creation of a community garden would be a welcome addition to the area.”

The Bronx Times reached out to Green-Thumb Bronx Outreach coordinator Ariana Arancibia for comment but she directed the call to Parks and Recreation.

A specialized division of the Parks Department known as Parklands handles requests to create new city green spaces.

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 260-4591. E-mail him at acusano@cnglocal.com.Follow him on Twitter @arthurcusano.

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