Monday, May 10, 2010

Community Gardens - The Uncontroversial Becomes Controversial

The community gardens idea is something that has really taken some convincing to get me to support. Several years ago, when I first heard about it from an enterprising and cutting edge city planner friend of mine, I gave the idea a wry smile and changed the subject.

I did the same thing when other friends suggested that cassette tapes would replace 8 tracks. Don't worry, I'm becoming more open...I promise!

Community gardens are not only a good idea, they're good ideas in a number of ways: they address the issue of accessible healthy fruits and vegetables; they help facilitate the education of children; they are great at fostering a sense of community in neighborhoods; they are a positive use of vacant lands - prominent in low-income neighborhoods; they can also generate wholesome economic activity in communities where economic development has resulted in a proliferation of fast food joints and alcohol related businesses.

So, of course, a city, say like Dallas, would look to make vacant non-tax producing lots in low-income communities available to residents who would like to participate in an alternative 'highest and best use', like community gardens...right?

Maybe not so much. Check out this article in the Dallas Observers' 'Unfair Park'...

"Back on March 8 Kris Sweckard, director of the Office of Environmental Quality, put before the council's Transportation and Environment Committee three options that would allow Dallas citizens to plant community gardens -- one of which involved shelling out an are-you-effing-kidding $1,170 for a specific use permit. To which most of the council members said, "Uh ... no." And so off they went to try, try again."

"And here's what Sweckard's come up with: a fourth option known as "Gardens By Right with Neighbor Input." It's spelled out in the briefing docs for Monday's meeting, but long story short ..."

"First the city needs a letter from the owner of a property that says, yes, it's fine for someone to garden on his or her land. Then the city wants a site plan from the operator of said garden. Then the city wants "a list of names and addresses of all property owners located within 200 feet of the proposed location of the community garden with signatures of the owners of at least 50% of the number of lots evidencing support of the operation of a community garden." Then, if the city gets all that, the city wants $215 for a certificate of occupancy."

"But, if the operator of can't get the required number of signatures, then the city will notify everyone living within 500 feet of the proposed garden and call a public hearing. Then the city will want $500 for holding a hearing."

"On top of this, if I read the document correctly, under this fourth option, the operators of the garden wouldn't be able to harvest and sell their goods, which was allowable at least twice a year under all three of the original three proposals."

Read the proposals here and the council committee's response here.

For the moment, one word comes to mind...'unbelievable'!


Janet Morrison said...

I don't get it. I am desperately trying to figure out why the city is trying its hardest to create so many hoops and/or expenses that it makes it nearly impossible to have a community garden.

I thought maybe it was because it would draw animals...but I live right by Fair Park and don't have a garden, yet I get chickens, squirrels, rabbits, possums, and dogs in my that can't be it.

So, if that's not it, what is it? Community gardens don't typically produce enough to pay for the $1170 fee. Gardeners usually garden because of the escape and relaxation it provides. They garden because they like to nurture something and watch it develop. People in a community garden like it because it provides just that... "community." The kids love it because of the discovery and connection with the earth that it provides.

The empty lots are eye sores that lower property values and sometimes draw the not so welcome activities. A garden provides beauty and creates conversation, community, and healthier eating.

So why is the city doing everything in its power to make it nearly impossible to create community gardens????

The only thing I can figure is that there must be some ulterior motive for keeping our city in disrepair. City of Dallas, is there something you would like to tell me???...because making this a tough decision that keeps getting more complex makes absolutely no sense at all!

no bull said...

It's NIMBY. The intrusion complaint most recently came from neighbors along Fisher Road in the Lakewood area about people outside "their" neighborhood raising vegetables in a nearby vacant lot.

I've helped start two very successful CGs in Dallas. Neither has been a bad neighbor.

Gardens should be allowed by right in all zoning categories subject to a very minimal registration process similar to that required of rental houses.

The neighborhood quality of life issues can be address through enforcement of existing regulations for litter, noise, noxious smells, parking, etc.

Let's not fix something that isn't broken.