- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

Residents of a Northeast neighborhood said they were shocked when they woke up yesterday to find two backhoes sitting on the site of their community garden, waiting to excavate it to make room for a housing development.

Backhoes, which razed part of the fence around the garden plot, are expected to begin excavating the land today in preparation for laying the foundation for two single-family houses with E Street addresses.

Darryl Sulekoiki, a project manager and co-owner of Lanham-based Kady Construction, said the developers legitimately acquired the parcel of land for $40,000 from a New York company. He added that he personally had informed neighbors about plans for the site several months ago.

But some residents, who have lived in the community for as many as 60 years, said they were surprised by how quickly and quietly plans were made to develop the plot and destroy the garden, which was started in 1973.

Many residents and city officials visited the garden on the corner of 13th and E streets to learn about what was happening, said Lacey Bigelow, who calls himself the garden's contact person.

"This garden served as a safe haven for the community. This is where we gathered and discussed what was going on," said the Rev. Catherine Bego, as she stood on the garden site with several community members. "Children would come here after school. The community is traumatized."

Mr. Bigelow, who has overseen crops of assorted fruits and vegetables, said community members often brought tables, chairs and grills to the site for barbecues and pig roasts.

Schoolchildren arriving at the garden yesterday afternoon, as they routinely do when classes are dismissed, said they were upset and sad about what is happening to it.

The garden had won the support of D. C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, who contributed a $1,400 check in January 1996 to cover the costs for a fence around the plot.

Mr. Sulekoiki yesterday brushed off the idea that community members were surprised about the development, saying they were "playing games." He said they were aware of what was happening because he had personally informed them.

"Everybody is 100 percent aware of what's going on. I personally spoke to everyone, and they said they would vacate by the end of December," Mr. Sulekoiki said.

"I don't think anybody would be suprised unless they are playing games. They knew perfectly well. We went back and forth."

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