Communication with Parks
In the spirit of transparency here are our communication with the Parks Dept:
### on October 29th, and November 12th, the parks department used taxpayer resources to destroy our efforts, TWICE!!!, see here for a page dedicated to our response, please go to the page and contact the Parks Commissioners of Queens and NYC as well as the Mayor's office.
The site of interest in October 2019 - you can see a large crowd assembled there
Results from the soil test on July 14th from he strip of land outside the future Davidson Playground
After sending out our petition, we got in touch with the Queens Borough commissioner of the NYC parks department. This was our email:
########## on 6/24/2020
Dear Mr Dockett,
We are contacting you to ask to get access to the plot of unused park owned land located at 39th Avenue & 50th Street in the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District. The last few months have been challenging to New York City's residents' in many ways. We propose to use the land to solve burning issues: producing fresh foods to distribute to families in need, and providing a community composting site.
We are Woodside - Sunnyside Composting collective and have been serving the community composting needed for many years. Since 2016, we are keeping records that allow us to know that we have seen a 5 to 6 fold increase in drop off at the site in Sunnyside Community Garden - within a few weeks we will run out of space. To continue to serve our community we need to expand to the public land on 39th ave and 50th street.
Additionally, in the past 2 months, we have used 5 empty plots in the community garden to produce a modest, but significant amount (75 lbs) of food that was distributed to our neighbors in need, mainly through the pop-up pantries organized by Sunnyside Woodside Mutual Aid. If we would have access to the unused land on 39th ave and 50th street, we could provide so much more.
We have ran a petition for a little over a month, on paper at the composting site - on Sunday afternoons in the community garden, and online. We have so far collected a total of 344 signatures (148 signatures on paper and 198 online), showing strong community support.
[we also joined the main text of the petition below](as of 06/24/2020)
This is the first answer we received on 07/07/2020 :
Dear Sunnyside Compost,
Thank you for contacting NYC Parks concerning the Woodside Sunnyside Composting Collective’s interest in the parcel located at 39th Avenue and 50th Street, site of the current Lt. Michael R. Davidson Playground.
At present, this site is locked and public use is prohibited because of significant safety concerns related to the status of the site. Specifically, the two existing site structures are not structurally sound, and the paved areas are buckled, which presents many tripping hazards throughout the location. NYC Parks, therefore, cannot permit any public activity at this site.
As you may be aware, NYC Parks recently acquired this parcel of land in the Fall of 2019. With the help of capital funding, this site will be re-envisioned and reconstructed. As part of our Capital project process, there will be a scoping meeting, where members of the community will gather with NYC Parks to express what they wish to see at this site. This scoping meeting is the commencement of the design for the project. This scope meeting, once scheduled, will be publicized in the local community.
We appreciate you reaching out to NYC Parks about this project. We wish you a happy and healthy summer.
A very brief no, with reasons that makes sense - maybe - except that in October last fall (2019) there were a pretty large crowd in the park (photo above). See article from QNS.com . This was our next response detailing point by point how our plan would avoid any of the reasons the Commissioner put for a rejection of our request :
Dear Queens Parks Commissioner Dockett,
Thank you for responding to the letter we sent in regards to the unused parcel located at 39th Avenue and 50th Street. We hope that the plan below will assure you that we can operate safely, and lead you to let us provide these dearly needed services to our neighbors.
First, I'd like to present the work we have been doing in these last 10 to 12 weeks at the composting site a block away from the unused parcel at stake. We are a group of volunteers who have been operating the composting in Sunnyside Community Garden site since 2012 and never before have we considered closing our site. Every Sunday we collect and process food scraps from our neighbors. For the last 3 months we have seen the number of people dropping off food scraps skyrocket. How do we know the volume of food scraps dropped off have seen a drastic uptick ? We have kept records of the number and volume of drop offs since 2016; we can clearly see a 6+ fold increase. Beyond our anecdotal data, composting sites across the city have all seen a large increase of drop offs. Our community is in strong support of continuing to provide this service, as P. Williams said “I cannot say how much it lifted my spirits  service to the community is valuable and necessary and this expansion will only help more people through the produce they’ll grow and  the composting service they’ll provide.“
More urgently, we have been donating food grown on 5 small plots in the community garden totaling so far 140 lbs of fresh foods donated to the Queens Together and Woodside Sunnyside food pantries. Imagine how much we can grow for people in need in the unused parcell. I (B. Lucas) have volunteered once to one of these pantries, and the 20lbs of fresh food I brought from the garden disappeared in less than 25 minutes. Again, beyond this anecdotal evidence, all pantries in NYC have seen a great increased need for foods to distribute to families in need. As L, Case said “I think it’s important to give low income families access to farm fresh food. “ We want to be active in advancing food justice, just like J. Hsu put it in her comment “Because healthy food options and best practices for maintaining the health of our environment shouldn’t just be hobbies for the wealthy, but universally accessible. I’d like to be a part of the change that makes community gardening and composting available in my neighborhood. “
The petition has been signed by over 450 people, including 180+ signatures on paper. We have exclusively asked people who drop off at our site to sign the paper petition, while we shared the online petition through local groups only. By staying local, we believe it reflects a strong community support. The overwhelming sentiment is that our community members are tired of seeing that space unused, want to see it put to good use, and do not want our composting activities to cease, which they will soon if we cannot expand. For instance, C. Montgomery said in her comment to the petitions “I walk by this unused land frequently, and it looks so bleak and depressing. It would be great to see the park being put to good use.”
We propose to use the site immediately, and in 2 phases. The first phase, on the community farm side, we are planning on growing foods in the area between the 2 fences, which already can be easily accessed by any able-bodied person (photo ending in 5646 and 9989). Starting to grow in this area can be done quickly using the overflow of compost (see photo of the finished compost in the community garden photo ending in 9989) that we have produced since the spring at the community garden location. For the composting initiative, it would consist of building a composting system near the entrance of the park, beyond the second fence where there is an area where the asphalt is clearly intact and does not represent a tripping hazard (see photos ending in 78 and 62). This area will provide space for 3 to 4 volunteers to work comfortably, keeping with the physical distancing rules to be safe from risk of contamination by COVID 19. Additionally, it is far enough from the 2 unsafe buildings. The composting bays would be placed on the edges of this safe area, blocking the access of the unsafe area.
In a second phase of development- with the help of Green Thumb, the community, and other stakeholders- we will remove the cracked pavement from the park to build more vegetable growing space and security fencing will be placed where needed. The composting bays placed along the fence, would provide a second barrier to both the opened structure (park’s northeast side) and the white building for the safety of everyone.
As you say “[...] site is locked and public use is prohibited because of significant safety concerns [...]” We take the safety of our volunteers and the public very seriously. In addition to the plan above, we provide training, gloves, and protective glasses to all volunteers. Since the pandemic has started, we ask each volunteer to wear a mask/gloves, and provide soap. We also ask the users to wear masks/gloves, and provide hand sanitizer to the public through our “no-contact” drop off, outside the fence, where we have clear markers to help the people we serve respecting physical distancing guidelines. We keep on adhering to these principles as the state is moving towards re-opening; in light of the current situation in states that reopened too quickly, and we will continue to operate this way in the foreseeable future.
As one of the community members mentioned in an email to Alexander Maureau, we, the volunteers, and additionally of the measures described above, we would be considering signing a waiver stating we would not hold the Parks Department accountable for injuries on the site. Again, we have run the composting site at the community for over 8 years, and have done so without significant injuries.
NYC Parks, therefore, should permit Woodside Sunnyside Composting’s activity at this site. We at Woodside Sunnyside Composting ask that you reconsider our proposal for the temporary use of Lt. Michael R. Davidson Playground, as it is for now and the foreseeable future, an unused parcel. Due to the pandemic, many families in the surrounding community can't afford to put food on the table. We think that, awaiting for the park/playground project to be actually put in action, Lt M. Davidson and his family would support the idea that a community group would be working to help the most vulnerable in the community, as he dedicated his own life to help the community as a firefighter. The land at the current state could be used to grow food to feed these families and mitigate the overflow of food scraps that have been dropped off due to DSNY shutting its doors on food scrap collection. We are confident that we can tend to this land safely and offer a much needed solution to a problem that seems to only be getting worse.
Finally we will end quoting another of our signatories, A. Baglia “Until [the] city can break ground on what is to be Michael Davidson park, the city should allow this space for volunteer driven regional composting.”
The WSCC crew.
The next response came to us as sort of a shock, as it seems that our plan to deal with the potential hazard was basically completely ignored ...
Dear Sunnyside Compost,
Thank you for following up with me concerning your request to hold a composting operation at Lt. Michael R. Davidson Playground in Sunnyside. Your dedication to the environment is quite commendable and we wish you much success at your nearby location.
We have further considered your request for operations at this site, however, we still cannot permit any type of public use at this location. As stated in our initial response to you, the current physical condition of the site does not make it safe for the public to use in any capacity. There are significant site conditions that need to be more fully explored and addressed via excavation in advance of the construction project for this parcel.
The health and safety of our patrons and surrounding community is a top priority for Parks. We appreciate you and your groups continued interest in this location but again, public use of this parcel cannot be permitted.
Our next answer, on 09/14/2020
Dear Mike Dockett,
We are getting back to you as the COVID crisis is everlasting, and the lines in food pantries are ever lengthening.
We have been taken aback by your previous email, as it seems that our point by point presentation of a plan to avoid the risks of fall, and the risks due to the 2 structures was not fully given considerations.
We are asking you to give serious consideration to our proposal of using the land for the good of Queens residents. By now the summer is ending, and with 5 small plots of 8 by 8 feet or so, we have managed to grow and harvest almost 350 lbs of food that has mostly been distributed to Sunnyside and Woodside Mutual Aid. 350 lbs !! yes 350 klbs gown by volunteers on almost no land, how much would we be able to grow on the site of the future Davidson playground ?
Thank you again for evaluating our plan to safely use the land until the construction of the playground starts.
#### UPDATE FROM MONDAY 11/02/202 ##################################################
To this day we have not received further responses from the parks department, but as you may know our direct action of starting to build raised bed on the outside perimeter of the park has been met with violence from the parks department who pulled the beds, and plant.
HOWEVER indirectly we had several differing answers from the Parks :
While again we have not hear anything directly why they decided to take with violent action from the parks department, in the aftermaths our local councilmember informed us of a complaint to the parks department. Additionally, people who supports us and emailed the parked department received the following answer.
TO be noted before pasting the actual answer : the food-bearing plants have been planted in raised beds, filled with compost, effectively taking the plant and their roots at a higher level than the grade of the existing soil. This means that the plants would not be mining their nutrients in the existing soil of the outside perimeter. And finally, on July 14th 2020, we brought a combined soil sample from multiple locations across the outer perimeter of the park (where our raised beds where installed before the city destroyed the pantry garden), to be tested at the "Soil Metals Testing + Soil distribution " event at the Wortman Community garden. The tests all came out below the level of concerns. See the results below:
HERE IS THE ANSWER ONE OF THE PERSON WHO EMAILED THE CITY AND PARKS DEPARTMENT RECEIVED :
"Dockett, Mike (Parks) <Mike.Dockett@parks.nyc.gov>
Mon 11/2/2020 10:38 AM
Thank you for writing to NYC Parks concerning the parcel located at 39th Avenue and 50th Street in Sunnyside.
Utilizing discretionary capital funding, provided by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the City of New York recently acquired the property formerly known as Phipps Sunnyside Playground, at 50th Street and 39th Avenue in Queens. The property has been placed under the jurisdiction of NYC Parks, making it possible to renovate the site and create a park/open space amenity for the public.
NYC Parks has conducted preliminary environmental testing of the site, to help further inform our understanding of site conditions and any environmental remediation that will be necessary during future capital work. We have identified potential contaminants on site, including lead, asbestos and other industrial contaminants. These preliminary findings, in addition to the poor condition of the existing site structures, paving and asphalt on site, have led NYC Parks to determine that this site is not safe or appropriate for interim public use. As such, NYC Parks intends to keep this site closed to the public until further testing and remediation can take place during future capital reconstruction.
As you may be aware, NYC Parks recently removed unauthorized plantings and other materials from this location. We appreciate the need for people to have access to open space, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and encourage any local residents interested in community gardening to get involved in existing community gardens throughout the City. For more information, please refer to our GreenThumb's division website: https://greenthumb.nycgovparks.org/.
Thank you again for writing.
Queens Borough Commissioner
T (718) 520-5905
F (718) 520-5926
The Overlook, Forest Park
80-30 Park Lane
Kew Gardens, NY 11415"
#############UPDATE FROM 11/25/2020 ##################################
New email / and letter sent to parks department Commissinonners Silver, Dockett and Major Deblasio
From:Woodside Sunnyside Compost
Dear Commissioner Dockett,
We are Woodside Sunnyside Compost, the group that has been circulating a petition to access the public land on 39th Ave and 50th St. We have requested to be allowed to use this land as a temporary pantry farm.
We define ‘pantry farm’ as a volunteer-run farm with the goal of alleviating food insecurity, distributing the harvests through local pantries. We contacted you on June 24, July 14, and September 14 of this year, and have been collecting signatures on the petition since May. Our aim and goal is to address and help to alleviate the worsening food crisis in New York City.
We received a response from you in which you expressed concern about cracks in the pavement and unsafe structures at the site. We presented our plan to use the land responsibly, including involving GreenThumb to help make the space safe. You replied, “There are significant site conditions that need to be more fully explored and addressed via excavation in advance of the construction project for this parcel.” Our last email asked you to seriously consider the plan presented in the second email that addressed your concerns, so we could rapidly find a solution that would allow us to use the space to provide food relief to our neighbors. Since then we have received no communication from you
To be unequivocally clear about our goals:
We are not trying to establish a permanent community garden
We are not trying to prevent public access to public land
We are not intending to steal a playground or park from our kids/neighbors
By May, we saw the food crisis worsening. We decided to roll out the first phase of our plan, by cleaning up the strip of land between the two fences, removing brush, branches and garbage. We built raised beds and planted hardy winter crops. On October 29, it was heartbreaking to witness the destruction of the raised beds by the City.
Because of the importance of our mission, we decided to persist and rebuild the pantry garden. Four days later, you doubled down on your misallocation of taxpayer money to not only rip food from the mouths of the hungry, but also install an 8 foot high fence around the perimeter, which is a danger of its own.
One of our nearly 700 signatories recently forwarded the response they received from their email asking you to let us provide an essential service. In which you say “NYC Parks has conducted preliminary environmental testing of the site [...] identified potential contaminants on site, including lead ”. It is obvious to anyone that said test results should have been shared with us, however we have collected two independent samples which found that lead or any other heavy metals are all below NY State DEC Residential Soil Cleanup Objective. Nonetheless, we used raised beds filled with finished compost which has the ability to immobilize/bioremediate industrial pollutants and spread some mulch on top of the native soil between the beds. Finally, we also wash all vegetables grown as part of our standard practice when we are harvesting/washing/bundling in preparation for delivery to the food pantry. These are the exact guidelines from NYC’s own Department of Health for gardening in urban soils, and further, the LeadFreeNYC Initiative has identical recommendations. To state so otherwise to the community is misleading fear mongering and contradictory to NYC Department of Health recommendations.
We are demanding an immediate public release of your ‘preliminary environmental testing’. We have included the results of two soil tests, both performed in triplicate, the first through the public event organized on July 14th by the UCCENY and Brooklyn College, and a second on the 14th of November by the Cornell soil lab. In both tests, no heavy metal contamination is above NYS standards. While we are not contesting the validity of the tests you are mentioning, it
is critical that you share the results with us and the public at large.
There is another aspect we’d like to hear back from you about; we heard from a third party that “WSC has been offered two other nearby locations which they rejected”. We have received no such email or offer. If this is not an urban legend, please share with us these locations.
As taxpayers, we are deeply concerned about the misuse of public money to prevent a group such as ours to help our neighbors in need. We are living unprecedented times in a century, COVID19 has now killed twice as many americans than WWI, reaching nearly a quarter of a million dead, the estimates of the number of job loss is over 7 million, in the city the unemployment rate is a whooping 16% according to the New York Times (2x the USA average!), pantry lines are longer than ever, tax revenue is projected to decrease by $2 Million, a financial abyss not seen since the 1970’s. But somehow, $1000’s of dollars were spent in material, consumable, and salaries to destroy a grassroot initiative led by concerned neighbors (who have grown over 450 lbs of food since May in 5 little 8x8 feet plots). Imagine how much we could grow in this space ! How many families we can help to feed! - anyway, the bill for this financial waste should be made public, as it is unacceptable to starve New Yorkers in this time of crisis.
In a recent phone call, our councilmember Jimmy Van Brammer, assured us that you were a decent hard working man. THIS IS WHY WE CALL ON YOUR HUMANITY TO LET US PLEASE HELP OUR HUNGRY NEIGHBORS IN THESE TIMES OF COUNTRYWIDE FINANCIAL STRAIN.
In good faith,
Woodside Sunnyside Composting
Page created on 09/14/2020 The page will be updated shortly after the next response by the commissioner