City: Resident keeps trespassing to clean our dirty lot!

City: Resident keeps trespassing to clean our dirty lot!
Community News Group / Max Jaeger

It’s a turf war!

A Columbia Waterfront District man and the city are locked in battle over a grassy, city-owned lot at the corner of Columbia and Woodhull streets. Local Louie Formisano has been keeping the green space clean since 2012, but officials say he padlocked the publicly owned parcel and is acting like he owns the place.

“Mr. Formisano illegally trespassed and continues to do so. He knowingly entered the lot without permission, re-sodded it, and turned into a giant ‘back yard.’ It seems he continues to break into the lot and use it for his own purposes including storage of personal items,” according to a spokeswoman from Housing Preservation and Development, which owns the tract.

Until recently, Formisano stored a rider lawn mower and some holiday decorations there.

Formisano, known for handing out free hotdogs in the summer and plowing neighborhood streets pro bono in the winter, said he bolted the property to keep out vandals. But officials say Formisano is the root of the problem.

“He cuts the city lock and puts his own lock — it keeps happening,” said the housing department spokeswoman.

Formisano and several other neighbors say they’d like to turn it into a community garden, but the city intends to build below-market-rate apartments on the property — though it has no timetable or immediate plans to do so, according to the housing department rep.

In the meantime, the plot will just sit empty — and some neighbors say the city let it go to pot before Formisano started tending to it.

Yikes: Here’s what it looked like in the early 2000s.
Community News Group / Max Jaeger

“It was scary,” said Winter Bargeron, who has lived in the area for 35 years, and says his son cut his foot on a needle in there in 2011.

Formisano says freezing him out of the otherwise-fallow field is harsh, considering he is actually willing to look after it.

“I’m an American. I’m helping the city. This is how they repay me,” Formisano said.

But several locals said they feel his methods do more harm than good — one local who helped re-sod the plot said he felt deceived by the neighborhood stalwart’s efforts, because he was unaware at the time that he was trespassing.

“It was the weirdest act of vandalism,” said the man, on the condition of anonymity.

The unconventional gardener, however, believes a rival on the block tipped off the city about his activities because he envies Formisano’s status among neighbors.

“He’s jealous,” Formisano said, declining to name the tipster. “He wants people to look up to him.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Before and after: The parcel before and after Formisano began cleaning it in 2012.
Community News Group / Max Jaeger