Spare Vacant Lot Fills Gardening Void

South Seminole Heights site gives community group room to grow.
March 25, 2009

TAMPA One neighbor's generosity and a dozen or so wading pools filled with compost are jump-starting a community garden in Seminole Heights.
About 40 neighbors met recently to discuss plans to begin tilling soil on a large vacant lot off Violet Street in South Seminole Heights. Except in this case they are opting for above-ground containers over in-ground planting.
"At the end of two years you just move them," said gardener and guest speaker John Starnes, who tossed out the "kiddie" pool idea for portability and the potential of needing less water.
South Seminole Heights resident Linda Ketley has donated the fenced, double lot for two years, said Robin Milcowitz, who has helped organize Seminole Heights Community Gardens/Grow Your Own!
Ketley plans to build on the property eventually.
The Seminole Heights group is among several citywide that are pursuing land for community gardens.
City zoning officials have taken notice and plan to craft a community garden ordinance that could be ready for city council review in July. If approved, the ordinance would become effective Jan. 1.
"It's kind of preliminary. We know there is a great deal of interest," said Gloria Moreda, the city's land development coordination and zoning manager.
A separate effort is under way to consider community gardens as part of new zoning codes being written solely for Seminole Heights. Zoning administrator Cathy Coyle and city staffers are working with residents to write zoning codes that emphasize the size and appearance of buildings, street layout and public spaces.
The city's existing codes do not mention community gardens, Moreda said. "What we're trying to do is look at and gather information on what regulations are out there in other communities."
A community garden ordinance would regulate when and under what conditions a garden could be operated and address anticipated concerns of neighbors about issues such as traffic and parking.
"You can certainly sympathize with being next to a vacant lot and suddenly the community takes over and starts gardening," Moreda said.
The Seminole Heights Garden group has sought comments from some neighbors near the Violet lots. The next newsletter of the South Seminole Heights Civic Association will solicit comments on the plans.
A storage shed and some type of shaded structure will be needed, but Milcowitz said the garden of what she calls "poolies" could start as soon as April. "It's fantastic to have a place where we can all be together," she said.
Hillsborough County Extension Service will hold a rain barrel workshop on the Violet Street lot April 4 at 9 a.m. Participants get vouchers to pick up free rain barrels, some of which will be donated for use at the garden. Then on April 18 a cleaning day will be held at the lot, Milcowitz said.
Because interest is so high, other sites are being pursued, said group member Greg Barnhill. A plot owned by Metropolitan Community Church on Cayuga Street also might be available, he said.
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Reporter Kathy Steele can be reached at (813) 259-7652.

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