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PLNA e-News: Protecting Values In Pennsylvania

Community Gardens under Attack

Tuesday, January 29, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gregg Robertson
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Phildelphia and Harrisburg Move to Limit Urban Gardening

PHILADELPHIA - After an outpouring of concern from community groups and citizens, a Philadelphia City Council bill to restrict community gardens and urban farms in the city has been amended to allow these as a matter of right.

Councilman Brian O’Neil, author of the bill, released a statement that he would amend Bill 120917. The bill, which would have placed 20% of existing gardens and Community Garden in Phillyfarms at risk, was amended to allow community gardens and market or community supported farms as a matter of right, just as they would have been otherwise permitted under the City’s new zoning code.

According to Amy Laura Cahn, of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the bill would have required groups to pay an initial $100 fee, a $250 fee to appear before the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals and a $25 fee for the use registration permit.

The garden group would also have needed to provide a letter of support from a registered community organization [RCO], post notice of what they were proposing to do for 21 days, get a tax certificate that verifies no taxes were owed, and then appear before the Zoning Board of Appeals with this documentation. In addition, each garden would have had to provide scaled design drawings.

Community gardens have been encouraged in the city by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). PHS has been working with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to use abandoned lots for community gardens, both to provide fresh produce to neighborhood residents and to beautify the neighborhood.

In a statement, Drew Becher, President of PHS, said, "Council Bill 120917 would be a step backwards, making Philadelphia less sustainable just as we are striving to be the ‘greenest city’ in the country. It would serve as a barrier to healthier, more vibrant neighborhoods.”

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This action follows another hostile action against urban gardening taken by the City of Harrisburg in the late summer of 2012. Without notice or warning, the city bulldozed a community garden started on vacant lots by a non-profit community organization.

The garden was the fourth and newest installed by an all-volunteer, Harrisburg-based non-profit called Green Urban Initiative. The group leases plots through the city's Adopt-a-Lot program, sets up wooden raised bed planter boxes and encourages neighborhood residents to rent a box to grow veggies in the previously vacant tracts. A box rental was $10 for the season.

The Harrisburg city council woman who ordered the bulldozing said the lot was getting weedy, although the lot with the planters was amid a number of other weedy abandoned lots that were left un-bulldozed.

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