A nursery on 44th Street near University Avenue has closed despite community support because the operation violated city zoning laws. | Video Credit: Brian Myers
A group of volunteers and patrons of Antonio’s Nursery got together one last time to recall the good times of the short lived micro farm on 44th Street near University Avenue.
It’s hard to imagine that weeks ago the lot was full of natural life. Visitors from the surrounding neighborhood stopped by to browse the flowers, trees and edible plants. Some purchased the plants to grow at home or were there to seek gardening advice from Antonio himself.
Others were just there. To them, the nursery offered an escape from the grey urban landscape and an opportunity to meet others. Tall corn and sunflowers blocked the view of asphalt streets and traffic. A small awning created a shaded meeting space.
“It wasn’t just a business,” said Andrea Carter, a frequent visitor of nursery.
Her sentiment was echoed by the others. In a neighborhood with great residential density and a lack of nature, parks and recreation centers, the nursery was a substitute for the community spaces newer, less dense neighborhoods might have.
Antonio’s nephew Hector said the community needs green space where folks living in the city can learn about growing plants.
“It’s basically a City Heights Balboa Park, without us having to go to Balboa Park,” Hector said.
Antonio is a familiar face around City Heights. For years he’s been growing and selling flowers across the alley at the IRC New Roots Aqua Farm and down the road at the City Heights Farmers’ Market.
Some say before Antonio rented the vacant lot, an old decaying house sat empty on the property for some time and drug dealers moved in. In an attempt to rid the bad elements from the neighborhood, the house was demolished and the lot was enclosed with a chain link fence.
Antonio saw the vacant lot as an opportunity to expand his nursery operation. He leased the property at the beginning of the year and quickly turned it in into an urban oasis.
Neighbors quickly noticed the changes Antonio was making. Rich Macgurn is a caretaker at the nearby Remedy Garden. He said Antonio is magic with his hands and would often take stubborn seeds to Antonio to sprout and return as plants.
“He made this space look so alive. There were so many people coming in and out,” Macgurn said. “It was really vibrant.”
Unfortunately for Antonio, he was unaware of the zoning restrictions the property has. When city code enforcement officers showed up a few months after he broke ground, he was told he would need to cease operation of the nursery immediately.
Antonio and volunteers have since removed the plants and farming equipment from the lot. The few fruits hanging from vines on the fence are the only relics remaining of the once productive nursery. It’s now just another familiar site in City Heights: a vacant lot collecting wind blown debris.
Nursery volunteer Ricardo Cantano said spaces like the nursery help shape a better community and this zoning restriction hinders the momentum.
“Regardless that that was the reason, I feel that the good impact in the community was bigger and there has to be a better way,” said Cantano.
Andrea Carter said that because the nursery offered public, health, environmental and community benefits, Antonio should have been given more support to bring the lot up to code.
“We should be moving in this other direction of creating more of these kind of spaces and facilitating them to exist, not making it difficult for people who are not sophisticated in permitting and zoning,” she said.