August 28, 2013

One Year Later, Community Garden’s Future Still Uncertain

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A year after the City of Ithaca considered selling a two-acre parcel of land the Ithaca Community Garden calls home,  the garden’s fate is still up in the air.

The Ithaca Community Garden, whose lease expires at the end of 2013, sits alongside Route 13 near the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. Community members can rent plots of land for a fee to grow their own gardens.

At a City Administration Committee meeting Wednesday, there was debate over whether the city should renew the lease of non-profit Project Growing Hope — which has managed the gardens for the last 20 years — at the expense of additional city tax revenue.

If Project Growing Hope’s lease is not renewed, the developer Building Links, Inc. — which owns the eight acres of land in Carpenter Business Park where the gardens are located — will have the option to purchase the parcel of land that the garden currently occupies.

A representative of Building Links said at the meeting that the company intends to do so.

In September 2012, Common Council asked the mayor and city attorney to negotiate a new lease with Project Growing Hope, but at this time, no new lease has yet been agreed upon.

Much of the uncertainty over the future of the city land stems from a lack of a clear plan from Building Links for the waterfront property, as well as there being no alternative location for the gardens to move to, according to City Administration committee members.

In several straw polls conducted at the meeting, the council resolved to continue lease negotiations with a possible early termination clause and for Project Growing Hope to have more accountability to the government.

Ald. Seph Murtagh Ph.D. ’09 (D-2nd Ward) suggested that a win-win situation would involve “some kind of mixed use waterfront development [where the] gardens were allowed to stay.” It would take longer than the four months until the lease expires, however, to figure out what to do with the land, he said.

Gardeners and other community members present at the meeting made statements in favor of extending the community gardens’ lease, saying they improve public health, allow for food donations to non-profit organizations and help with community building.

Others also argued that not enough time had been allotted for finding an alternative plot of land for the garden, and that the cost of setting up a new site had not been properly accounted for in the decision-making process.

However, Ald. Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) argued that in financially harsh times, the government “needed to make some hard choices as to what it is [that] they are supporting.” Brock argued that Ithaca needs to build its economic base and address existing infrastructure issues in the city. And as a result, the best use for the property is development, she said.

Original Author: Gabriella Lee