Turf war! Brooklyn Law students join street vendors’ fight against sidewalk hedge

Hedged out! Law school shrubbery could displace Joralemon St. vendors
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This grass-roots opposition is growing!

Brooklyn Law School must pull its application to install large planters in front of its Downtown campus that will force out local sidewalk vendors, say students who joined the peddlers in their fight against the foliage on Friday with an online petition demanding school honchos stop using their fees on “frivolous” landscaping and let the merchants stay put.

“We, as students, believe that it is fundamentally unjust for our school to spend our tuition money displacing people who rely on those spots for their livelihood,” said Devin Horzempa, who started the digital appeal and has since gathered more than 250 signatures.

The vendors — who hawk kids’ books, fruit, and jewelry on Joralemon Street near Boerum Place — have been terrified of losing their prime trading posts since learning of the school’s plans to pay the city $250 a year so it can stick 10 boxwood hedges where they do business in late November, days after the local community board had already given its okay.

The lawyers-in-training claim the school also led them up the garden path — they only learned of the planters after reading a news article about a public hearing on Feb. 13, where city officials told the vendors they had 10 days to fight the application by finding powerful community members to support them — and they’re serious about winning the turf war.

“We’re really committed and we’re not just making noise,” said Horzempa, adding that even students with corporate aspirations, who aren’t usually drawn to activist causes, are on board. “We’re angry and upset they tried to sneak it by us.”

Horzempa said the news was especially galling because Brooklyn Law has a partnership with advocacy group the Street Vendor Project, where students do volunteer work fighting for the rights of curbside entrepreneurs just like the ones it is trying to boot from its doorstep.

“It’s on our website and we brag about doing this pro bono representation, and they turn around do this,” he said.

Ironically, the vendor-defending outfit is now working with the traders, students, and local pols to stop the shrubbery. The transportation department had originally given the merchants until Feb. 13 to collect comments from locals opposed to the foliage before it makes up its mind, but a rep for the project says it is working with officials to push that date back.

The groups are now gathering locals’ signatures to take back to the department, and will meet again on Tuesday evening to plan their next move.

A rep from Brooklyn Law refused to comment on the petition or vendors, but said the planters will “beautify” the street and improve life for everyone in the area.

“The planters will add much-needed greenery to the streetscape and advance the quality of life for the thousands of students, workers, residents, and visitors who pass through our neighborhood every day,” said spokesman John MacKin.

The vendors and their allies will meet at Panera Bread (345 Adams St. at Willoughby Street Downtown) on Feb. 16 at 6:30 pm.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill