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A Garden of Second Chances Gets a Second Chance at Life

The Sobriety Garden, tucked behind Bellevue Hospital Center and tended by clients of the hospital’s chemical dependency outpatient program, was supposed to have been paved over by mid-July to make way for a parking lot.

Ramon Zamora, a client of the chemical dependency outpatient program at Bellevue Hospital Center, at work in the Sobriety Garden.

But the tomato plants still stand. Not a tile on the garden’s mosaic wall has been disturbed.

Instead, local politicians joined in the gardeners’ protests and officials at Bellevue Hospital told the group privately early this week that the garden would not have to relocate.

“We are developing an alternative plan that will address the parking needs of the Bellevue staff and as a result will allow us to retain the Sobriety Garden,” said James N. Saunders, a spokesman for the hospital, in a written statement released yesterday.

The hospital initially planned to make the garden into a parking lot to recoup parking spaces lost with the construction of the East River Science Park, a commercial biotech center to be built next to the hospital.

Construction for the park is to begin this year east of First Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets.

Hospital officials offered Dr. Annatina Miescher, director of the chemical dependency program and its garden, an alternative space, but they said they recognized that the new space might not be comparable to the present garden.

Clients who tend the garden were also upset that much of the work they had accomplished would be lost.

“I thought this would never happen, that our voices would not be heard,” said Matt Neff, a client of the chemical dependency program who works almost daily in the garden.

“What it means to us, to sobriety, the therapy, the nurturing — it was really beginning to affect me, that I wasn’t going to see the outcome of all that nurturing.”

What apparently did the trick, beyond objections from the program’s clients and staff, was a string of letters issued in support of the garden to Bellevue officials from a group of leaders, including State Senators Liz Krueger and Thomas K. Duane, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney and Manhattan’s borough president, Scott M. Stringer.

“My general feeling was, in pursuit of parking, we cannot sacrifice everything,” said Daniel R. Garodnick, a member of the City Council, who wrote to Lynda D. Curtis, the executive director of Bellevue, and met with other hospital officials. “I think they heard us very clearly, that we considered this to be an important space with therapeutic and emotional value.”

Ms. Maloney, a Democrat from Queens, whose office took up the fight, said: “It’s a small little garden, but the amount of support it generated was really astonishing. The garden was really much more than a garden to everyone involved.”