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Maple Street Community Garden

Information about this lot

Known Use: community garden
Address: 237 MAPLE STREET, Brooklyn, 11225
Area: 0.14 acres (6000 square feet)
Block and Lot: Brooklyn, block 5030, lot 72
More information about this lot at OASIS

Political Boundaries

City Council District 40 represented by Mathieu Eugene
Community District Brooklyn 9 ( bk09@cb.nyc.gov / 718-778-9279 ), district manager: Pearl R. Miles
Find all elected officials for this lot at Who Represents Me? NYC

Why is this lot here?

We posted this lot because:

  • The lot is being used as a community garden.

Owner

Germaine Kirton (private)

Steward

This land is being stewarded by the following group:

News feed

Feb. 1, 2017, 10:20 a.m.
Paula said

http://gothamist.com/2016/09/22/maple_street_garden_eminent_domain_1.php

City Moves To Take Over Community Garden Threatened By Developers
BY NATHAN TEMPEY IN NEWS ON SEP 22, 2016 9:18 AM

The city is gearing up to acquire a lot in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that is home to a community garden and the subject of a heated dispute, with the gardeners claiming developers acquired it by fraud.
Together, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and neighborhood Councilman Mathieu Eugene have set aside $1.25 million to "acquire the garden lot at 237 Maple Street for parkland to be placed under the Department of Parks and Recreation," according to capital budget documents for fiscal year 2017. Given that the titular owners, an LLC called Housing Urban Development (yes, like the federal agency), have spent two years fighting to retain the property and to remove the volunteers who run the Maple Street Community Garden, the city's effort to take over the property could require the use of eminent domain.

The Parks Department, Eugene, and Adams would not confirm that eminent domain is on the table.
"We are exploring our options to increase access to green space in this neighborhood," Parks spokeswoman Crystal Howard wrote in an emailed statement.

"The conditions facing the Maple Street Community Garden presented the opportunity to utilize $750,000 in capital resources toward the purchase of the land as a permanent open space in Prospect Lefferts Gardens," Adams said in a statement. "I look forward to working with all stakeholders to make the community’s vision a lasting reality."
The city would have to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to acquire the property, and no one has yet filed to do so. A spokesman for Eugene said he was not available for comment.
To recap, Housing Urban Development's Michael and Joseph Makhani claim to have purchased the lot at 237 Maple St. for $5,000 from nephews of the deceased owners back in 2003. The house that once occupied the lot was abandoned after its owners' deaths, and burned down in 1997. The lot accumulated junk for 15 years until neighbors banded together to clean it up and turn it into a community garden—after they say a worker at the Makhanis' LLC refused to discuss the property.
In the spring of 2014, the Makhanis sued the deceased owners and the city, seeking to clear the lot's title. The gardeners stepped in, casting doubt on the validity of the developers' ownership, and the two sides have been doing legal battle on multiple fronts since.

Roland Brewster, a lawyer for Housing Urban Development, said this was the first he'd heard of a bid for the contested property.

"They’re open to all offers," he said of his clients. "Whether they take them or not, that’s to be determined. And if there’s an offer, I’m sure they’ll take a look at it."

Brewster said he also had not heard mention of the possibility that eminent domain was on the table.
"[The city has] to pay the reasonable cost of it, is my understanding of how that works," he said. "I’d have to discuss it with my client. They haven’t brought it to my attention."

As the litigation over whether the gardeners can stay and the Makhanis are the rightful owners has dragged on, gardener lawyer Paula Segal of the group 596 Acres has gotten a guardian appointed for the late owners' "missing and unknown heirs," and hired an investigator to look into whether the purported sellers were the "sole heirs."

The investigator found a grand-niece of the late owners named Carol Wilson in Georgia, who was not mentioned in the transaction, WNYC reported.
Segal welcomed the news that money had been allocated to acquire and preserve the garden.
"We're really glad our elected advocates have seen how important the Maple Street Community Garden is as a resource and are committed to preserving it," she said.

Segal added that she hopes the money set aside by the city doesn't become a windfall for the Makhanis.

"596 Acres has worked really hard to locate the heirs of [late owner] Germaine Kirton, and I hope that the heirs would be the ones to get the money," she said.

State legislators for the district that includes the garden introduced legislation last year proposing that the state acquire it by eminent domain, but the bills have stalled in committee in both the Senate and Assembly.

May 18, 2016, 6:34 p.m.
mara @ 596 acres said

Maple Street Garden's story is in the WNYC podcast There Goes the Neighborhood, Episode 6: Trickery, Fraud, and Deception in Brooklyn, Released April 13, 2016! Listen here: http://www.thenation.com/article/there-goes-the-neighborhood-episode-6-trickery-fraud-and-deception/

April 12, 2016, 11:18 a.m.
tom said

All, at 9:30 this Wednesday we're appearing in Supreme Court again, 360 Adams St. HUD LLC's lawyers have introduced motions against us, and Paula has introduced motions against them, including sanctions on the firm they've been using, Robinson Brog, and the very sketchy stuff they've been doing.

That means there's a lot of paperwork for the judge to read. Judge Partnow didn't read through Paula's briefs until a bunch of gardeners showed up in court, wearing the t-shirts. When he'd read them, he ruled against HUD LLC's quiet title motion and granted the injunction that has kept HUD LLC out and allowed us to garden this season.

It seems to be the case that judges know when they're being watched and behave a little more professionally. We're up before a different judge now, Kathy King. Let's make a good showing on Wednesday, and let her see who we are and that we're watching her! Let me know if you CAN come.

And I've lost track of the t-shirts. Where are they now? If you're holding them, can you put them in the shed tomorrow or Tuesday and let me know? Then I'll bring them to court and will report what happens.

The segment of There Goes The Neighborhood that relates to us airs on WNYC on Wednesday morning. That series is available free as a podcast.

We've found and contacted Germaine Kirton's great-niece, but we still have a long way to go, and we can expect HUD LLC to fight us, so don't hold your breath on this.

March 4, 2016, 12:11 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

Recent press: http://gothamist.com/2016/02/12/put_away_your_subpoenas.php

Brooklyn Developer Allegedly Harassing Community Gardeners To Force Them Out
BY NATHAN TEMPEY IN NEWS

ON FEB 12, 2016 11:15 AM

The Maple Street Community Garden is battling eviction by two brothers who they say obtained the lot the garden occupies fraudulently. (Maple Street Community Garden/Facebook)
Real estate developers trying to claim a property occupied by a community garden in Prospect Lefferts Gardens have subpoenaed garden supporters in connection with a sidewalk slip-and-fall case, which the gardeners' lawyer says is part of a legal "pattern of harassment."
On one side is the company Housing Urban Development LLC, run by brothers Joseph and Michael Makhani. On the other is the volunteers for the Maple Street Garden and Paula Segal, an attorney and director of the open-space advocacy group 596 Acres. Segal said that the subpoenas targeted people who were quoted blasting the brothers in the news, and as they were originally written, asked for all sorts of irrelevant information in an effort to intimidate them.
"They subpoenaed every single person who has spoken publicly about Housing Urban Development’s property claims," she said. "The subpoenas were over-broad, and asked inappropriate questions about their voluntary associations with their neighbors."
Four people received the subpoenas back on December 23rd. The papers asked for, among other things, "all documents or communications concerning all work performed at the premises," all documents "identifying persons present" at the garden, and all photos and video of the garden, from 2012 to the present, though the alleged injury occurred in 2013.
The subpoenas prompted Segal to file a motion within a week asking a judge to fine their current lawyers for "frivolous conduct, including meritless and resource-wasting claims, unsupportable factual allegations, material misrepresentations to this Court, and harassing of my clients and their associates."
For some background, the Makhani brothers claim to have purchased the lot at 237 Maple St. for $5,000 from nephews of the deceased owners back in 2003. The house that once occupied the lot was abandoned after its owners' deaths, and burned down in 1997. The lot accumulated junk for 15 years until neighbors banded together to clean it up and turn it into a community garden—after they say a worker at the Makhanis' LLC refused to discuss the property.
Late last summer, after the gardeners had put two years of work into transforming the property, the Makhanis showed up demanding the garden be removed. The next morning, a crew set to ripping out a vegetable bed, but were stopped by cops when the Makhanis couldn't produce satisfactory ownership paperwork. Since then, the realtors and developers have been in court fighting over the validity of the Makhanis' deed and the gardeners' right to stay.
In the meantime, the Makhanis filed permits to build a five-story, 17-apartment building on the site.
The brothers' assertion that they bought the lot for from nephews of the deceased owners back in 2003 suffered a setback in November when Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Mark Portnow ruled the transaction "is of dubious validity" and appointed a guardian to get to the bottom of it.
Garden backers point to crimes in the pair's past as further reason to doubt the deed.
"I try not to take their previous faults and felonies and use it against them in this case," said Bob Treuber, a garden neighbor who supported cleaning out the lot and drops his compost there. "There's a legitimate question of whether these people trying to prevent us from gardening have no right to be there."
The Makhani brothers served three months in federal prison in 1999 and paid $20,000 in fines each for anti-trust violations, and in Michael Makhani's case, for fraud, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman. The New York Times reported that convictions were for their roles in a scheme involving foreclosed properties in Queens, though the spokeswoman couldn't confirm that. In late 2008, the Times wrote, three companies Joseph Makhani was a principal in, including one under fire for alleged predatory lending, pleaded guilty to filing false deeds in Queens and were fined $5,000.
Through a lawyer, Joseph Makhani said that he had an interest in the companies before the criminal acts, and after the convictions, but not in between. A Queens DA's Office spokeswoman could not find record of the case, but said there are records involving Joseph Makhani that are sealed.
After a back-and-forth between Segal and lawyers for the Makhanis, the realtors' side agreed to narrow the subpoenas, to not send subpoena further gardeners as they'd planned, and to define "the premises" as just the sidewalk, leaving out the garden. The request for judicial sanctions against them is still proceeding. Michael Leon, a lawyer for the Makhanis, said his clients are planning to build affordable housing on the site, but are being stymied by irresponsible squatters.
"This is the most reprehensible part of it: my client has been trying to build affordable housing on that property," he said, noting that the company had filed "a HUD statement." "And they are preventing that from happening."
The "HUD statement" turned out to be undated application seeking a 421-a tax break from the state to build below-market rate housing on the lot. When asked what the developers plan to do now that the 421-a program has expired, Leon said they still want to build affordable housing, but he did not know for what income level. He said he could not speak to the specifics of how the deed changed hands, but that it's not fraudulent.
"That's impossible, because they have a recorded deed," he said.
Among the irregularities that have been pointed out with the transfer: the document names the two nephews but omits their contact information; it provides no proof that the nephews were the "sole heirs" to the deceased owners; and though it was supposedly notarized in Massachusetts, the notary signature is illegible, the city Worcester is misspelled, and instead of an elaborate notary stamp, the stamp simply reads "SEAL." Leon brushed aside questions about the document's validity.
"That has nothing to do with whether or not an outside community garden can come in and use the property," he said.
As for singling out people who spoke out, he said Segal has resisted providing a list of gardeners, so public records are all he has to work off of.
Treuber said he knows nothing about the alleged slip-and-fall, and no one he's talked to at the garden has mentioned it either.
"It's really peculiar that people are being deposed who could not have possibly seen the injury occur because they don't even live on this block," he said.
As for the conditions of the sidewalk outside the garden, he said it's messed up, but anyone could tell you that.
"Everybody that lives on Maple Street knows that the sidewalk is all broken up and cracked up," he said. "Little old ladies slow down or go to the other side of the street. When I got here four years ago and moved to this block it was like that."
Treuber runs a title insurance trade group, and so has some familiarity with the courts. He said that he understands his obligation to comply with the subpoena, but that it's an unnecessary drag.
"It's disruptive to my life to take time off of work and prepare for this," he said.
The first round of depositions took place last week, and Segal said she doesn't believe the Makhanis' lawyers learned much of interest.
"The folks who were subpoenaed were able to verify that the sidewalk is screwed up," she said.

Jan. 25, 2016, midnight
paula at 596 acres said

On 06 / Jan / 2016 the Maple Street Eminent domain bill in the State Senate was REFERRED TO CULTURAL AFFAIRS, TOURISM, PARKS AND RECREATION Committee. The members are here:
https://www.nysenate.gov/committees/cultural-affairs-tourism-parks-and-recreation

This means a whole new group of Senators needs to be hearing from the Maple Street Community a la this letter campaign: http://maplestreetgarden.org/2015/11/23/write-a-letter-to-support-the-garden/

Dec. 17, 2015, 9:36 a.m.
paula at 596 acres said

The Maple Street Community Gardeners will be presenting the story of this place to Community Board 9 on Tuesday December 22 at 7pm, 400 Empire Blvd., Brooklyn NY 11225. Come listen and voice your support for the garden. Julia, Tom and I will be doing an official presentation - with pictures! - but anyone can sign up to speak. Do!

Dec. 15, 2015, 3:29 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

This is the attorney who is representing the estate of the Kirton family: http://www.godoskygentile.com/Attorneys/Robert-E-Godosky.shtml

Dec. 8, 2015, 4:02 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

If you want to support the Maple Street Community Garden by writing letters to the state senators and assembly members who will be reviewing the bills introduced by Jesse Hamilton and Diana Richardson, here are some simple instructions, and you’ll find all the materials right here: http://maplestreetgarden.org/2015/11/23/write-a-letter-to-support-the-garden/

1) Personalize each of the two letters (one to assembly, one to senate) by adding your name and address and then, lower down, how you found out about the garden and how you use it (gardening, compost, relaxation, dog run, playground, etc.) and why you think the bill and the garden are important to the community. Sign your name for emails; leave the salutation blank

2) The two committee lists give you the addresses of all the members of the two committees. Their email addresses are live links that you can use by clicking on them. Copy your letter to that committee, add in the salutation for the senator or the assembly member you’re sending to, attach a copy of the appropriate bill and send.

3) If you can send your letter by USPS ,or prefer to do that, you’ll help us even more. After customizing the letter, print out enough copies of each and as many copies of the appropriate bill. Hand-write in the salutation and your signature. Stuff in an envelope with a copy of the appropriate bill, address the envelope, add a stamp, and mail

Thanks for your support!

Nov. 20, 2015, 2:09 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

The signed decision is finally up on the ecourts system: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/fbem/DocumentDisplayServlet?documentId=XPXOU2ukIzrD_PLUS_/Z4jqzbdQ==&system=prod

I will be sending it to all the necessary parties on Monday.

Nov. 19, 2015, 3:40 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

From May 2015 press release: http://596acres.org/en/news/2015/05/03/brooklyn-gardeners-protecting-their-plots-in-court/

Maple Street Garden at 237 Maple Street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens is threatened with demolition by the current owner of the property, Housing Urban Development LLC (HUD LLC). The private developer has a name that sounds like a federal agency, apparently chosen to cause confusion, and a history of subprime lending and irregular title transfers. The principals behind the LLC are brothers Michael and Joseph Makhani. Both have been previously convicted of forging notary signatures and of a foreclosure scam in Queens. On April 6th, 2011, HUD LLC acquired the property from Brooklyn LLC (BK LLC), another LLC they set up. Since the Makhani brothers first acquired the property in 2003 under the name BK LLC, it has been sitting vacant and filling with garbage. The home that used to be on the lot burned down in 1999, a few years after its elderly owner who had lived there since 1968 passed away, apparently leaving no will and no heirs. After the fire, the house had to be demolished by NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development at public expense.

In 2012 residents, led by the Maple 3 Block Association, organized and transformed the once trash-strewn vacant lot into a multipurpose garden and community space.

“The gardeners converted an abandoned, trash-filled empty lot into an attractive green space that is open 24/7 for anyone who wants to come in and enjoy it,” says Tom LaFarge, an active Maple Street gardner. “The city needs more places where its diverse population can meet for collaborative work and relaxed conversation.”

Maple Street Community Gardeners, and joined by supporters to hear their story during an Endangered Gardens Bike Ride organized by 596 Acres and Public Space Party on April 18th, 2015.
Photo via 596 Acres.

On September 23rd, 2014 representatives of HUD LLC tried to put a sudden end to this successful community project.

“A crew of workers came in with a truck and began to dismantle the garden, getting as far as wrecking one raised bed. An alert neighbor called the cops, who came at once and stopped the destruction,” recalls Mr. LaFarge.

The Makhani brothers arrived on-site and the police demanded to see proof of ownership, but the papers they produced were inadequate, according to the police officers. The Makhanis and workmen left.

On October 18th, 2014, the gardeners found a notice in the garden, signed by an unidentified HUD LLC signatory, and entitled “TEN DAYS NOTICE TO LICENSEE TO VACATE." That notice was the beginning of a battle that is now playing out in two different Kings County Courts. The gardeners are standing their ground against the attempts by the Makhani Brothers to illegally evict them.

On Monday, May 4, the Gardeners will appear in Housing Court to continue to resist eviction. HUD LLC is kept from interfering with the property until the case is resolved. Simultaneously, the gardeners and Paula Z. Segal, Maple Street gardener’s attorney and founder of 596 Acres, are working with elected officials to initiate a potential condemnation.

Simultaneously, they are filing a motion to intervene in an action in Kings County Supreme Court in which HUD LLC is seeking an order declaring them the proper owners of the property.

“Even though HUD LLC is aware of the gardeners presence, some their names, how to locate them to summon them to court, and that they will be impacted by the outcome of the suit, they failed to include them in the Supreme Court quiet title action,” says Paula Z. Segal, the gardeners attorney. “They are moving ahead against only the deceased former owners and heirs that they have never been able to locate. This is sneaky and we are now asking for the court’s permission to enter the case as well since its outcome will clearly affect the gardeners rights in relation to the lot that the garden is on.”

Cheryl Everett and Beverly Lewin, two homeowners in East New York who are also currently involved in a lawsuit against the Makhani brothers, came to Maple Street Garden’s Housing Court case on April 1 in support of the gardeners. Under the name H.P.D. LLC - incorporated with the same initials as the City agency “Housing Preservation and Development” - the Makhani brothers sold the properties and worked directly with a lender who provided subprime mortgages to homeowners in East New York. The houses were built with various defects, including, but not limited to, cracks in the foundation, inadequate insulation, leaky roofs, inadequate sized sewage pipes, warped flooring, undersized heating pipes to boilers and risers, and ceilings separating from walls due to moisture from leaky roofs. Facing foreclosure, 15 of them filed a lawsuit against H.P.D. LLC in 2008; the case is still in litigation in Kings County Supreme Court.

“The Makhani brothers made that purchase sound like a good deal, they tricked me into signing. The mortgage turned out as a balloon mortgage that I can’t afford, they should have never offered it to me in the first place,” says Cheryl Everett. “After the agreement was signed and problems became obvious, it was impossible to get hold of the Makhani brothers, they just took off.”

Nov. 19, 2015, 3:38 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

Some great press from Gothamist:

http://gothamist.com/2015/11/18/community_gardens_ftw.php

3 Beloved Brooklyn Community Gardens Win Important Victories

BY NATHAN TEMPEY
ON NOV 18, 2015 3:59 PM

Volunteers at three community gardens are breathing easier after a series of court decisions staving off eviction by developers that each group believes obtained their garden's lot through shady means.

"It's crazy, all of a sudden my garden docket is clear," said Paula Segal, director of the green space advocacy group 596 Acres and lawyer for all three gardens.

On Tuesday, a judge discontinued the eviction case against the Eldert Street Garden in Bushwick. The order to toss the case doesn't specify why, but it comes after members of the green space near Knickerbocker Avenue successfully fought being locked out, saying they had never been served with eviction papers, and challenged the circumstances by which the lot sold for $300,000 last year. The gardeners got permission to use the derelict property in 2009 from board members of the owner, a defunct daycare nonprofit called Alianza de Damas Unidas de Brooklyn.

The 2014 sale was made by other people claiming to represent the board, and netted a middle-man named Ari Hertz $500,000, according to court filings by the Attorney General's Office. Property sales by nonprofits are supposed to be approved by the state attorney general, but this never was, the records indicate. The AG's Office opened an investigation into the sale in April and a lawyer for purported Alianza board president Elba Roman is now fighting a subpoena, filings show.
The buyer, Eldert Bushwick House LLC, had filed to build a four-story building on the plot, but now that its eviction of the gardeners has failed, it is reconsidering its options, representative Harry Schwartz said. Asked if he would challenge the gardeners' use of the property again Schwartz said, "They wanna use the garden, I'm okay with that." He added that the company has no plans to evict "at the moment." Asked if he and his partners still plan to build, he said, "not really."

He acknowledged that "Ari Hertz was the broker," then declined to discuss the transaction further.

In a statement, garden founder Kim Anderson pledged to fight on whatever the developer and law enforcement agencies decide.
"We'll continue to do our best to stay open as a community resource during these challenging times," she said.

The Eldert Street reprieve comes a day after a judge threw out the eviction against Roger That Garden in Crown Heights. Founded in 2006 on Rogers Avenue at Park Place after a long-abandoned hardware store there was demolished and locals tried in vain to contact the hardware store's owner, the garden is under threat from a company called TYC Realty, which claims to have purchased the property from the elusive proprietor for $10 in 2013. The gardeners found out about the eviction in June the week they were supposed to appear in court. TYC lawyers said they had served the gardeners in April, but the gardeners say that is baloney.

The eviction came after TYC tried to fence the gardeners out, filed permits to build a four-story apartment building in the place of their raised beds, and rejected offers to buy the land, upping their demand at one point to $1.5 million. The judge's recent order didn't go into detail, but specified that the developer could serve Segal in the future.

Crown Heights Youth Collective founder and Medgar Evers College history professor Richard Green has been involved in the garden from the beginning. He said the garden is just what New Yorkers need.

"New York City needs green space now more than ever," he said. "Everything’s being moved into buildings. People need space where they can see greenery, and that's what the space provides."

Segal said Roger That members recently found out that the lot has been foreclosed on for nearly $500,000 in tax liens, a fact she said TYC hid from the gardeners. The lot could soon go up for auction, and the gardeners may try to bid on it, she said.
A lawyer for TYC Realty did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The garden is also getting a boost in the form of legislation, proposed by Assemblywoman Diana Richardson and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery, to seize the property using eminent domain and hand it over to the gardeners under the management of the Parks Department. The lawmakers recently finished drafting the bills and are in the process of introducing them.

Montgomery wrote:

Since Roger That! Garden volunteers exercised every effort to secure the property legally and have invested nearly a decade into cultivating a garden beneficial for the entire community, and the current property owners obtained the land through questionable means and have continued to let liens accumulate on the property, we believe the best course of action is to acquire the property through eminent domain and permit Roger That! Garden to flourish.

In Prospect Lefferts Gardens, similar bills have been proposed to take over the Maple Street Garden. The bills face a potentially unfriendly reception in Albany, as Gov. Cuomo vetoed a similar bill seeking to save a Williamsburg senior center from eviction.

The 237 Maple Street property is contested by Jamaica, Queens's Makhani brothers, realtors with histories of criminal and otherwise questionable dealings. The brothers' assertion that they bought the lot for $5,000 from nephews of the deceased owners back in 2003 suffered a setback on November 4th when Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Mark Portnow ruled the transaction "is of dubious validity."
In his decision appointing a guardian to get to the bottom of who the lot belongs to, Portnow noted that the Makhanis, operating through Housing Urban Development LLC (not to be confused with the federal agency), had lied three times in related court filings, had failed to serve the gardeners (though one found a notice in a plant bed nine months after the court case began), that their deed transfer named the two nephews but omitted their contact information, and that it provided no proof that the nephews were the "sole heirs" to the deceased owners. The judge's order bars the developer from interfering with the garden while the guardian investigates.
In October, the Makhanis' LLC filed to build a five-story, 17-unit residential complex on the lot. In an email to DNAinfo, the Makhanis' lawyer Michael Leon said they are the real ones suffering in all of this, and claimed they want to provide below-market rate housing:

The gardeners allege they are benefitting (sic) the community, but in fact they are performing work on the property causing hazards without insurance and creating a nuisance. It is Housing Urban Development who is the victim in this matter and is planning to develop the property with affordable housing for the community.

Nov. 17, 2015, 10:21 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20151113/prospect-lefferts-gardens/deed-for-disputed-maple-street-community-garden-is-dubious-judge-says

Deed for Disputed Maple Street Community Garden is 'Dubious,' Judge Says

By Rachel Holliday Smith | November 13, 2015 3:57pm | Updated on November 15, 2015 8:26pm

The Maple Street Community Garden is located at 237 Maple St. in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. The Maple Street Community Garden is located at 237 Maple St. in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Facebook/Maple Street Community Garden
PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — The hunt is on for the heirs to a local community garden lot after a Brooklyn judge questioned the ownership of the Maple Street property in a decision — and appointed a guardian to find its rightful inheritor.

In a decision filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Nov. 6, Judge Mark Partnow dismissed the ownership claim of "Housing Urban Development LLC" at 237 Maple St. — an empty Prospect-Lefferts Gardens lot planted and maintained by the Maple Street Community Garden. Partnow wrote in his decision that the deed claiming the company bought the space in 2003 from the “sole survivors” of the previous owners for $5,000 “is of dubious validity."

The deed says the LLC, which is controlled by brothers Joseph and Michael Makhani, bought the property from “Alexander Kirton and Alan Kirton as sole survivors for the estate of Oscar and Germaine Kirton,” who owned a home on the lot that burned down in 1997, the gardeners and their advocates have found.

However, the decision from Partnow points out, no address, phone number or attorney is listed for either Alexander or Alan Kirton on “the deed at issue.”

To clarify the rightful owner of the garden space, Partnow ordered an independent legal guardian to make “diligent and exhaustive efforts” to find Alexander, Alan or any heirs to the Kirton estate. The judge did not specify a deadline for that investigation.

He also ordered that, until that process is complete, the LLC cannot eject the garden from the property, interfere with their activities, develop on the property or file new applications for building there; the Makhanis filed permits to build a five-story building on the garden lot in December of 2014, records show.

The decision is the latest in a long fight between the Maple Street gardeners and the Makhanis. The trouble began in earnest in the fall of 2014 when the brothers tried to rip up the garden before police ordered them to stop because they couldn’t prove they owned the lot.

Since then, the gardeners and their attorney, Paula Segal of 596 Acres, have been in and out of court fighting the Makhanis, who were convicted of filing false deeds in Queens in 2008 and pled guilty to bid-rigging foreclosure sales in 1999, according to the New York Times.

“We are really happy with the decision,” Segal said in a statement. “Judge Partnow took care to weigh the impacts of potentially illegal development on the local community and to consider the entirety of the record before him.”

The Makhanis' attorney, Michael Leon, said in an email that his client, the brothers' LLC, "never gave consent to these trespassers" to use the property and promised that the company will continue to pursue its rights to eject the gardeners.

“The gardeners allege they are benefitting (sic) the community, but in fact they are performing work on the property causing hazards without insurance and creating a nuisance. It is Housing Urban Development who is the victim in this matter and is planning to develop the property with affordable housing for the community," he said in a statement.

The decision came days after a New York Times report revealed the rising prevalence of “shell companies,” or LLCs, taking homes and property from city residents by falsifying deeds or other property records. The practice has become especially common in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant where “profits in the hundreds of thousands of dollars” can be made from quick sales, the report said.

While the search for an heir to the Maple Street garden goes on, another attempt to preserve the green space is being made by a local state senator. Last month, Sen. Jesse Hamilton introduced legislation to seize the garden by eminent domain to turn it into state parkland.

Nov. 13, 2015, 1:53 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

The Maple Street Community Garden got a fantastic decision from the Kings County Supreme Court this week. The garden is safe and open for now, the estate of the family that owned the land in 1990 has been appointed a guardian and "Housing Urban Development LLC," the entity that claims to own the garden now, has been forbidden from moving forward with development. 596 Acres has reached out to the family. Gardeners and their elected official supporters are working on a long term preservation strategy, too.

Below is our press release, which is also posted with photos and links here: http://596acres.org/en/news/2015/11/12/for-immediate-release-court-questions-llcs-claim-to-ownership-of-community-garden-throwing-wrench-in-prospect-lefferts-development-plans/

For immediate release: Court Questions LLC’s Claim to Ownership of Community Garden, Throwing Wrench in Prospect-Lefferts Development Plans

November 12, 2015

The Maple Street Community Garden, threatened with eviction and targeting by restraining orders throughout the last year, is safe for now. On Friday, Judge Mark Partnow of the Kings County Supreme Court responded affirmatively to gardeners’ motions to dismiss a claim to ownership of the property made before him by “Housing Urban Development LLC” – a private corporation, not the federal agency.

In the written decision, Judge Partnow acknowledge material misstatements made by representatives of the LLC in filings before him and questioned the validity of deeds filed with New York City Department of Finance. Paula Z. Segal, director of 596 Acres, New York City’s community land access advocacy organization and partner in Mohen & Segal LLP, is the gardeners’ attorney.

“We are really happy with the decision. Judge Partnow took care to weigh the impacts of potentially illegal development on the local community and to consider the entirety of the record before him,” said Segal.

The property formerly belonged to Germaine Kirton, an immigrant from Guyana who passed away in 1990, leaving no apparent heirs. This week, the court also appointed a guardian for the estate of Mrs. Kirton.

The Kirton house burned down in 1997. For decades, the property was a dumping ground for washing machines, tires and household rubbish. In 2012, the Maple 3 Block Association, sick of the mess, initiated a clean up and transformed the dump into the Maple Street Community Garden. After the house was demolished by the City, the property was included in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 tax lien sales; but the holder of the debt never foreclosed.

"The Maple Street Community Garden took a long-standing eyesore and health hazard and turned it into a wholesome green space for work and relaxation, serving the whole Prospect Lefferts Gardens community," said Tom LaFarge, a Maple Street Community Gardener and resident of Prospect-Lefferts.

“The Maple Street Community Garden is an oasis for residents of all ages. So many men, women, and children in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens worked hard to beautify this area and while the recent ruling is certainly phenomenal news, we must continue to protect this public space,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “I hope that all residents will be able to enjoy this treasured community garden for years to come.”

"The garden is a wonderful asset available to the public,” said New York Senator Jesse Hamilton who represents the neighborhood. "I am pleased with Judge Partnow's decision, and I applaud the neighbors fighting for this community asset. Deed fraud is a pervasive problem for my constituents, and I will fight it with renewed dedication.”

Senator Hamilton introduced a bill in October, S6073, that, when passed, will direct the State Parks Department to acquire the property via eminent domain for preservation as a garden through the NYC Parks GreenThumb Program. Assemblymember Diana Richardson introduced a companion bill in the Assembly (number pending).

"The Maple Street Garden is a wonderful site promoting social activity, and building civic-minded awareness amongst committed members of the community,” Richardson said. “I am proud to have introduced legislation into the Assembly that will allow these fine residents continued access to the garden for the years to come. It is the work and activism of groups such as this that help to better our district, and I will remain a committed advocate on their behalf.”

"The Maple Street Community Garden is an important green space for the residents of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, a community that worked diligently to transform it from a dumping ground to a delightful garden,” said Borough President Eric Adams. "I appreciate the work of Judge Partnow on this case, and I ask my former colleagues in the New York State Legislature to join onto State Senator Hamilton and Assemblymember Richardson's legislation to take this property through eminent domain for the purposes of preservation as a community garden.”

Press contact: Paula Z. Segal, Esq., 718-316-6092 x 2, paula@596acres.org

Oct. 29, 2015, 6:55 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

http://gothamist.com/2015/10/25/maple_street_garden_eminent_domain.php

On Friday, October 23, 2015, Senator Jesse Hamilton introduced a bill in the New York State Senate to preserve the Maple Street Community Garden (S6073). If passed, the State Parks Department will acquire the property and turn it over to the GreenThumb program for continued management by volunteers. Read about the bill in Gothamist at the link.

Let's get it done!

The bill is in the Senate Rules committee. Here are the committee members: https://www.nysenate.gov/committees/rules
Give them a call!

Oct. 26, 2015, 10:14 a.m.
paula uploaded
BQLT Letter Eminent Domain
Oct. 10, 2015, 9:26 p.m.
paula at 596 acres said

Last week, the Maple Street Community Garden compost committee found the garden illegally locked with a heavy padlock and chain, despite a court order from the New York State Second Department Appellate Division confirming gardeners' rights to use the space without being disturbed. Gardeners cut the lock and posted a copy of the order on the gate. Now: back to court! Join your neighbors, the gardeners and attorney Paula Z. Segal on Tuesday, October 13 at Kings County Supreme Court, 360 Adams Street, Room 441, at 9:30am. Come out and show the judge that this is a place that matters more than “real estate!"

Sept. 22, 2015, 5:52 p.m.
paula at 596 acres uploaded
July 1, 2015 Letter from Brooklyn Borough President to NYC Parks Commissioner In Support of NYC Purchasing the Garden "I believe that this garden must stay open to the public and am willing to commit a portion of my FY17 capital budget to acquire the parcel and ensure that it permanently remains an active community garden and space." THANK YOU BOROUGH PRESIDENT ADAMS!
Sept. 21, 2015, 1:32 p.m.
paula said

OPEN FOR COMPOSTING! AND CALL YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES!

TOM WRITES...
Neighbors, the Maple Street Community Garden is restarting its popular composting program. Now you have a nearby location to bring your food scraps instead of hauling them to Grand Army Plaza or just sending them to landfill. Please, no meat, bread, rice, pasta, or dairy products. Eggshells are good and so are coffee grounds and tea leaves. Things that will take a long time to break down, such as avocado seeds or peach pits, should be left out. If you have old celery or corncobs, please snap them in half. No pet feces, please!

The garden is located at 237 Maple Street, a few lots in from Rogers on your way to Nostrand. You'll see two upright receiving bins (yellow and gray) towards the back of the garden, so just dump your scraps in there. Nearby there's a trash barrel for plastic bags or other non-compostable waste. Come any time, the garden is open 24/7! Enjoy it when you like!

We are still in court with the crooks who allege they own the lot. Our next hearing is in Brooklyn Supreme Court on October 13th. We have fended them off for a year, though they did lock us out for six weeks over the summer. If we lose the garden, the "owners" will build 17 units of luxury housing, covering the entire lot (and they'll cut down the willow tree). But we now have a commitment from State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson to introduce legislation in Albany to condemn the property by eminent domain. Please give their offices a call, to let them know that you support this legislation because the garden is important to the community, and if you use the composting program, let them know that too.

Senator Jesse Hamilton: 718-284-4700
Assemblymember Diana Richardson: 718-771-3105

Thanks for your support!

Sept. 3, 2015, 11:48 a.m.
paula uploaded
The Appellate Court Ruled the Garden Open!
July 29, 2015, 4:18 p.m.
Paula Z. Segal posted
We are winning!
We are winning! Thanks to a favorable order from the appellate court, the garden is OPEN with no restrictions!!
July 26, 2015, 7:19 p.m.
andrew @ 596 posted
July 26, 2015
July 26, 2015 Maple Street community members meet to discuss next steps in defending their beautiful community garden from the unjust and illegal takeover by the Makhani brother's deceptive shell company.
July 26, 2015, 7:18 p.m.
andrew @ 596 posted
July 26, 2015
July 26, 2015 Maple Street community members meet to discuss next steps in defending their beautiful community garden from the unjust and illegal takeover by the Makhani brother's deceptive shell company.
July 26, 2015, 7:17 p.m.
andrew @ 596 posted
July 26, 2015
July 26, 2015 Maple Street community members meet to discuss next steps in defending their beautiful community garden from the unjust and illegal takeover by the Makhani brother's deceptive shell company.
July 9, 2015, 1:37 p.m.
paula at 596 acres posted
Housing Court Restraining Order
Housing Court Restraining Order This order tells the representatives of the alleged "owners" that they are not supposed to interfere with the garden.
June 25, 2015, 5:27 p.m.
Paula Z. Segal posted
June 25, 2015, 5:27 p.m.
Paula Z. Segal posted
June 11, 2015, 3:24 p.m.
Mary @ 596 Acres uploaded
Maple Street Community Garden Scrapbook for Elected Officials Compiled by Tom LaFarge
June 11, 2015, 1:54 p.m.
Mary @ 596 Acres said

This past Tuesday morning, members of the Maple Street Community Garden (237 Maple Street near Rogers Avenue, Brooklyn) and Paula Z. Segal, the garden's attorney, headed back to Supreme Court to fight the speculators who are claiming to be the owners of the land the garden is on. Once again, a new lawyer for Housing Urban Development LLC appeared, and unpreparedness mean that their underlying motion for a default judgement and the garden's motion to dismiss were adjourned until September!