City turns green thumb down on garden plan
June 9, 2010
City officials say they will help residents find city-owned vacant land for a community garden, but they cannot allow a garden at 22nd Street Park.
Members of the Seminole Heights Community Garden had requested that parks and recreation officials consider allowing their group to lease about 3 acres for a garden at the park, off Sligh Avenue on a dead-end stretch of 22nd Street. The group recently celebrated its one-year anniversary at a community garden planted on a private residential lot on Violet Street.
Last week, Karen Palus, the city's parks and recreation director, told Tampa City Council members that the city's policy does not allow community gardens in its parks.
There are concerns about insurance, liability and potential costs of providing city water, Palus said. She and Thom Snelling, the city's "green officer," recently met with Robin Milcowitz, a co-founder of the Seminole Heights garden, to discuss the matter.
There also were issues raised about possible tours of the garden by school groups and other special events that might be held at the garden.
"We really didn't feel that was appropriate in that location," Palus said.
Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena said the city's decision was shortsighted.
"I think that only looking at vacant parcels other than parks is a limitation that doesn't make sense," she said. "Cities all over the country are encouraging gardens."
Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said the Seminole Heights group has insurance and has used water collected in rain barrels.
"Nobody is asking for anything for free," she said. "They are asking to lease."
The 22nd Street Park is a "huge grassy area with nothing going on in it," Mulhern said. "To say we can't have a garden in a park doesn't make sense."
In the three years she has advocated for community gardens, Mulhern said the city has not provided vacant land for gardens to neighborhoods requesting it.
For Councilman Charlie Miranda, the size of land being requested raised concerns about how the site would be used.
"When you start having events, you start having sales, you start having gatherings - that is not the best thing for neighborhoods," he said. "I'm saying this is a business. If you take the word 'community' out of it, it's a business."
And that means permits and inspections would be required, he said.
The city's land-use staff is working on a draft of the city's first ordinance regulating community gardens. Miranda and council Chairman Tom Scott said any decisions on community gardens must include a provision allowing area residents to decide whether they want a community garden in their neighborhood.
Community gardens on private property have been started in Seminole Heights, Palmetto Beach and East Tampa. Residents in Tampa Heights and Southeast Seminole Heights are hoping to start gardens soon.
"I'm for the community gardens, those that want them," Scott said.
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