It's the saga of the Maplewood Community Garden.
The Community Garden, originally approved for the lot behind Town Hall, was booted from the space in mid-March due to a recommendation by the town engineer that drainage issues should first be fixed. Confident that another location could be found, Township Committee members rescinded approval for that site. Neighbors of town hall had protested strenously that the garden might adversely affect drainage on their properties.
Earlier this month, the town then approved Orchard Park over the angry protests of that park's neighbors who complained about the lack of notice and loss of open space.
Now, the Town has returned the Community Garden to its original space, promising to fix drainage issue and have the town engineer design the beds himself.
At last night's Township Committee meeting, Vice Mayor Kathy Leventhal acknowledged the Orchard Park residents' concerns and thanked them for their input. "We have learned a lot already and I know we will learn more doing the pilot."
Sharon Roerty and Margaret McCrory from the Orchard Park neighborhood had both spoken during public commentary. Roerty and McCrory both thanked the Community Garden for refusing the space at Orchard Park and the Township Committee for accepting the Community Garden's decision. Despite the contentious tone taken by some at the previous meeting, both women stressed to the Committee that Orchard Park neighbors were "allies" of the Town. "We are working with you," said Roerty. The Township Committee officially rescinded approval for the Orchard Park location last night before approving the Town Hall location.
A number of other public commenters, however, spoke against a 2010 growing season for the Community Garden—no matter the location. Vicki Arlein presented a petition with 180 signatures of Maplewood residents. Arlein complained that the garden had suffered from "hasty planning" and been a "closed process" from the beginning.
Arlein testified that at the January 27 meeting of the Community Garden "the majority felt it was a rush." She also said that not enough experienced gardeners were involved. Arlein mentioned Millburn's Community Garden as a model, saying it was run by the local garden club.
Arlein also said that "it seems that all the spots were taken before it was open to the community. "
Another commenter, who is a resident of Oakland Road, said that she felt that the proposed garden was too small. "Twenty-five is not the right number." When asked by Township Committee members for an ideal number, she posited "maybe 200." Someone in the audience called out that Millburn Community Garden offered 60 plots.
During her public comments, Community Garden organizer Dunsavage said that the project had been carefully planned over nine months (starting with work between Dunsavage and Leventhal: the steering committee began meeting about four months ago), that usable sites in town are "far and few between" and that the "Garden Club and other master gardeners were never excluded." She added, "We've been doing this with Rutgers all along." She noted that the project was a pilot and, "We would love to move on to other sites and include as many sites and people as possible. She said that the Community Garden had drawn a "diverse, enthusiastic group" and that planning was far along and included by-laws and tax-exempt application.
Dunsavage and another organizer, Frank Montesano, both said that the families who had already signed up for plots were very open to the idea of sharing the plots and opening up participation to others who want to be involved in the pilot.
During Township Committee discussion, Township Administrator Joseph Manning explained Town Engineer Bob Bratt's plans to create basically two large French drains on either side of the Town Hall property behind the building to deal with drainage issues. Manning said that the neighbors of the Town Hall property will be able to connect their roof drains into these new drains. Manning said the project would cost approximately $10,000, but he was confident that the amount could be found in the budget.
Meanwhile, Bratt would ensure that the Community Garden beds did not contribute to any drainage issues by designing them and laying out the plots himself. Manning said the plots would be raised and easy to remove.
Before the vote, Committeeman Jerry Ryan said that he "struggled with some things the petitioners said," particularly in that "if you wanted every person to participate, you couldn't do anything in town." Still, Ryan said he did not understand the rush, but he did feel better about the project knowing that "it's temporary, it's a trial, easily removed—that takes away any objections that I had."
Deputy Mayor Fred Profeta stated, "It's far from perfect, but there isn't any perfect lot and when we expand there will be more room for inclusion."
Added Profeta, "We don't lose anything by doing this process in 2010. If we don't do it, we do lose something. These volunteers have put in a tremendous amount of work. They didn't abandon it. We shouldn't abandon them."
Added Leventhal, "As hard as the process has been, I do appreciate the comments."