City rejects paved over Carroll Gardens garden

City rejects paved over Carroll Gardens garden
Photo by Tom Callan

The city has mowed down a plan by a Carroll Gardens man who paved his front yard to turn into an outdoor seating space for his new cafe — the latest effort to protect the expansive gardens that give the neighborhood its name and much of its character.

The Buildings Department did approve Vincenzo Cumbo’s plan for a restaurant at the corner of Court Street and First Place, but the agency never gave him the authority to pave over the garden on the First Place side of the building.

Decades-old zoning law preserves the gardens along First, Second, Third, and Fourth places to be used “for courtyards only.” The gardens are actually considered part of the street and not the homeowner’s lot, giving the city oversight about what is permissible there.

“We put him on notice that he needs to bring the garden into compliance with the area’s regulation, and if he does not, we will revoke the site’s permits,” said agency spokeswoman Ryan Fitzgibbon.

Cumbo, who neighbors said owed a nearby Carvel ice cream shop and Laundromat, did not respond to a request for comment. His architect, Felix Tambasco, said he would still try to win approval for the outdoor seating.

“As it is now, [paved] as an open space, it is compliant,” he claimed. “Whether it can be used as an outdoor eating area, that remains to be seen. He’s trying to do the right thing.”

It is unclear why the city cracked down on Cumbo. The deli across the street from Cumbo’s site uses its First Place space as a parking lot. And a nearby Dunkin Donuts uses its “garden” as a seating area — though it is covered with foliage.

The city said its enforcement of front yard garden law is complaint-driven.

Indeed, over the summer, inspectors ticketed three homeowners following a stunning report in this newspaper that many residents of Fourth Place between Smith and Court streets had turned their front yards into parking lots.

Garden guardians were relieved following the city’s intervention.

“I’m generally opposed to the notion that people are using public space for private commercial use,” said John Hathaway, co-chair of the Land Use Committee of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. “That’s just not right.”

But some seem willing to compromise.

“If he wants to use it in a way that’s not ugly, then I don’t have a problem with it,” said longtime area activist Salvatore “Buddy” Scotto. “We should be reasonable with it and understand it. After all, the most important thing in our neighborhood is our people.”

A Google image shows what the garden looked like before Cumbo paved it.
Via Google Street View