It's been a community staple for three decades, but now the Ithaca Community Gardens could be paved over to make way for new development. From the Ithaca newsroom, our Tamara Lindstrom tells us about the brewing battle between growers and builders.
ITHACA, N.Y. -- The two acres of gardens in downtown Ithaca are a mainstay to those who work the land.
"This means an awful lot. It doesn't cost the city one bloody cent," said Will Parker, Community Gardens Board Member.
"The community gardens, for 30 years, has been like a gardening park for Ithaca. We've provided services to the whole city, public gardens, demonstration gardens, free tools. And it would be a terrific loss if that were taken away from the city," said Joel Fredell.
But they're located on what some believe could be a profitable new development.
"That was an area that was prepped 20 or 30 years ago by the city for waterfront development," said Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick.
The 150 plus plots in the Ithaca Community Gardens fill up quickly each year. Many, low-income gardeners eager to put fresh food on the table.
"They can come and grow it themselves and what you're looking at, this whole setup, is people's food supply," Parker said.
But a 20 year lease is about to expire.
Fredell said, "This summer, we were blindsided by a resolution from the developer that would direct the mayor to kick us off the land and sell the land to her."
The gardens are on city-owned land, part of a ten acre plot and eight of those acres were sold to a developer who now wants this property as well. So the land could soon serve another purpose.
Myrick said, “We know what they want to do is commercial. I know they've talked about a grocery store. They're even throwing around a hotel, sort of boutique hotel because it is on the waterfront, very close to the farmers market. But we don't have specifics yet."
The property would be sold for about $92,000, according to city planners. The mayor says he believes the gardens could be relocated.
"I think one of the most promising options is, can we use our park space to actually do vegetable gardening? We plant flowers in our park space, we put benches in our park space. We put basketball courts, skating carts and golf courses in our park space. Vegetable gardening is a recreational activity just like any of those," Myrick said.
But gardeners who searched in the past and have begun looking again say there isn't another feasible option within city limits.
"We've already been looking and talking with the city planner and there's no alternative. Back 20 years ago, there was no alternative either," Parker said.
They say the property, close to the Farmer's Market and easily accessible from downtown, is ideal.
"People maintain their gardens when they have good access to them. And a lot of the people we serve are lower income people who don't have the use of a car, can't afford the gas," Fredell said.
Now it's up to the city council whether to keep the land or sell it. Myrick says he can't guarantee a new spot will be secured for the gardens before a decision is made, but he says there will be a solution that works for everyone.
"I believe we can have our cake and eat it, too,” Myrick said.
And gardeners hope some vegetables, too.
The Community Garden's lease expires in 2013.
The developers and owners of the property could not be reached, despite multiple attempts to contact them.
The city administration meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 22nd to consider the resolution to evict the gardeners. That meeting is open to the public.