Jan. 12, 2016 By Christian Murray
A group of guerilla farmers who have been planting fruit and vegetables on an abandoned industrial site in Long Island City may be in jeopardy of losing their Skillman Avenue lot.
The urban farmers, who call their plot the Smiling Hogshead Ranch, had been using the MTA-owned site on the corner of Skillman Avenue and Pearson Place without permission from 2011 through 2013. The MTA then entered into a year-to-year lease with the group in 2014.
However, Smiling Hogshead Ranch now stands in danger of disappearing, with the MTA prepared to offer the tract of land that it sits on to another non-profit or business to lease.
The site is part of what’s known as the Montauk Cutoff, a .35 mile rail road line that the MTA decommissioned last year. The abandoned rail line cuts through an industrial section of Long Island City, going from Sunnyside Yard to Newtown Creek.
“I’m concerned that we might lose it [the ranch],” said Smiling Hogshead Ranch co-founder Gil Lopez, who is putting in a bid to nab the 4.2-acre site with the help of other non-profit groups. “I’m trying to think of the exciting opportunities that we can come up with.”
The MTA has put out what’s called a “Request for Expressions of Interest” where commercial entities or non-profits are encouraged to put forward their ideas as to how the line can best be used.
Interested parties have until Feb. 26 to submit a plan.
The MTA also wants to know how the plans will be funded and is seeking a hypothetical operating budget. It is seeking site plans and detailed renderings.
“There will be other people putting together proposals,” Lopez said. “I almost guarantee that.”
The Hogshead Ranch has joined forces with a number of local non-profits who are in the process of putting together a united plan.
The group, called the Cutoff Coalition, consists of the Hogshead Ranch, the Newtown Creek Alliance, the Long Island City Community Boathouse, HarborLab and Green Map System.
The coalition’s goal is to put together a collaborative vision.
Members of the coalition all agree that the Hogshead Ranch should remain intact. Smiling Hogshead members currently grow vegetables on the farm for their own consumption and provide tours of their plot.
The coalition plans to incorporate several green concepts into their plan, focusing on site bioremediation and renewable energy. The group is discussing the possibility of an amphitheater, maker spaces, green space and some education programming, Lopez said.
The coalition has already had three meetings and the last one was attended by nearly 40 people.
The MTA is expected to review each applicant’s proposal and at some point put out a Request for Proposals based on the various ideas. Lopez said that it could be a mix of several concepts.
The MTA spokesperson overseeing the project could not be reached for comment.
Lopez is hoping that political leaders will support the ranch and is calling on people to provide financial support.
The Montauk Cutoff is not served by any utilities and any plan might require electricity, sewer or gas at the expense of the applicant. The custodian would be in charge of maintaining the site.
“We are hopeful that the MTA will put people before profit,” Lopez said. “The MTA is a public benefit corporation and that the public should benefit as opposed to one or two private companies.”