An effort to transform a small portion of Greenwich’s open space into a community garden got another approval last week when the Board of Selectmen gave it a unanimous blessing.
At their July 25 meeting, the selectmen approved a lease with the town that will allow this project to go forward. The garden, if it makes it through the town approval process, would be located at 129 Bible Street, which is part of the Montgomery Pinetum property. That property, which was once the controversial proposed site of a cell tower, was deeded to the town to be preserved as open space and the Garden Education Center is already located there.
The project is being pushed by the Greenwich Community Gardens Inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 that already has a thriving garden at Armstrong Court, which just marked its fifth anniversary. Patty Sechi, executive director for the organization, was not at the meeting but her contribution was certainly noted.
“That garden has proven exceedingly successful in utilizing what had been a garden many years ago but had lay dormant ever since,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said at the meeting. “Patty galvanized community resources, non-profit garden clubs and even Whole Foods Markets and transformed a piece of property under the aegis of the town Housing Authority into something truly inspiring and beneficial. This proposal, I think, has the opportunity to exceed the one at Armstrong Court in its benefit to the community.”
Selectman David Theis said he was excited by the idea.
“As a lifelong resident, I find this is keeping with the spirit of the community,” Mr. Theis said. “This is a place for everyone to fit in and make their lives more enjoyable while enriching the community at the same time.”
The selectmen’s support was no surprise, though, since this was not the first time this project had come before them. Earlier the selectmen had approved municipal improvement status for the project. Now the project has advanced to the point where the lease may be brought to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), which has final say on all town leases.
According to attorney Rick Margenot, who is representing Greenwich Community Gardens Inc., the lease would be for 10 years, with one right to renew for 10 more years that would be subject to town approval. He said there is also a mutual termination clause in the lease that allows for the town to ask the group to leave the property if it sees fit.
“We don’t intend to tie this property up forever for cheap,” Mr. Margenot said. “If the town decides it needs it for another use it can come to us. This is written to incentivize us to do a good job and be an example of how to maintain town property.”
The property in question covers approximately one acre of the 39-acre Montgomery-Pinetum land. Mr. Margenot said that the garden would be at what is unofficially known as the “old leaf dump” in the woods. The non-profit would be responsible for maintaining the area and installing fencing, water lines and compost areas for the garden. The town’s responsibility would only be to take care of trees in the area and to remove debris from the site so the initial work can begin and road access created. The town will also be asked to provide a new gate, since the existing one was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
“I often say that this is a site in search of a use and the Greenwich Community Garden group has identified this as the use,” Mr. Margenot said, noting that the project has been through the selectmen before and already has approval from the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency, and neighbors support it.
Under the plan, the land would be used to create 88 garden plots. Mr. Margenot said that some were going to be set aside for residents with developmental disabilities and the rest would be distributed through a steering committee that would manage the place, similar to what’s been done at Armstrong Court. He added that this is likely to be a “low intensive” use consistent with all the deed restrictions put in place in the Montgomery will that deeded the land to the town originally.
Touching on RTM member concerns about past leases, Mr. Margenot said this would be “fair, open and accessible to everyone.” He repeated that the goal is to build “a town asset” and said they would be “very proactive” in working with the RTM, and that last week all members of the body were invited to the Armstrong Court garden to see for themselves.
“We want the people who will be making a decision on this to see what a community garden looks like,” Mr. Margenot. “It’s a wonder to compare the kale you get from one of these gardens to what you get at a grocery store. It’s like four times bigger in the garden.”
While the proposal for the cell tower met heavy opposition, this use has been embraced by neighbors as far more in the spirit of the agreement between the town and the Montgomery estate for use of the land as open space. Mr. Margenot said there would not be any heavy additional traffic and there would not be any lights installed or need for extra electricity on the land.
As it is with other arrangements between the town and local non-profit groups, the lease would be for one dollar a year. Mr. Margenot stressed that this arrangement would pay off for the town because of the work that Greenwich Community Gardens Inc. would put into the land.
“We plan to build the town a community asset,” Mr. Margenot said. “We want to make a difference and to raise the money to build something that’s available for everybody regardless of who you are, what you are and where you are. We feel that there’s a huge opportunity for people here.”
He said that this project was in line with the Greenwich Community Gardens Inc.’s mission to create a townwide food system of community and private gardens that would “provide all members of the community to have access to affordable, healthy and sustainable sources of food.”
“We have this vision that this is the beginning of great things to come for the town,” Mr. Margenot said. “The town is known for a lot of things, like our hospital, our schools, our homes, our volunteers, and we want it to be known for our gardens. It’s completely consistent with our Plan of Conservation and Development. In our lease we actually reference the plan, which requires us to continue to support organizations that provide community facilities and services through public/private partnerships.”
Town Conservation Director Denise Savageau called this “a great project” to use town open space and that it was a “win-win for the town” because it would provide residents access to safe, healthy food they can grow for themselves or for social services groups like the Neighbor to Neighbor food bank.