Passing Vote is No Magic Beanstalk

Written by Steve Wilson (Reposted from the Winter 2014 Flea)

Neighbors vote for garden, but only city can plant the seeds

By the nose of a garden gnome, residents of the Schieffer-Willowbrook Neighborhood Association voted 38-37 in favor of the Patterson Park Community Garden, with two abstentions and one split. SWNA now joins the neighborhood associations of Cherrywood and Wilshire Woods/Delwood I in support of the plan for garden space in Patterson.

SWNA conducted by mail the hair’s- width vote, which hearkens back to the tight, high-turnout 75-63 vote to break from CNA in 2012. (CNA and SWNA now exist as different entities in the same physical space, like alternate dimensions on Star Trek or in fantasy novels about magic portals.) Once completed by residents, the mail-in ballots went directly to Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department for impartial review in mid December. CNA, which had previously approved the garden in 2011, voted 12-5 for a location change by a show of hands at a meeting in November.

Wither on the vine?

Despite the neighborhood associations’ support for the park, the garden is far from approved by the city. As David Boston noted on the SWNA listserv, the votes may only help inform the city’s decision about the garden, not dictate it. Boston posted to the listserv a response he received from Margaret Russell, a program manager of PARD: “The input from the neighborhood association is only one element in the many that are required for the development and building of a community garden,” she wrote.

“Of the original 72 pre-approved locations for community gardens identified in 2009, none were found at this location, so there are multiple steps for this to proceed.”

Indeed, PARD initially rejected CNA’s community garden application in may, citing opposition from immediate neighbors. Only after mark Smolen of the Patterson Park Community Garden Task Force said he would appeal to City Council did officials agree to review a compromise. Hence, the plan that neighborhoods voted on included a revised location on the park’s southeast edge (see pg. 3) with 60 plots, some of them set aside for food banks, the Ronald McDonald House, and people who can’t afford the annual fee.

It’s feasible PARD may consider the breakdown of the SWNA vote. As garden opponent Lisa Fuka observed on the SWNA listserv, “The further from the park, less participation and greater ‘yes.’ Closer, more ‘nos.’ Of the 10 properties adjacent to the park: two no response, two yes, six no.”

Seeing green as public, private or both

Before and after the votes were tallied, debate continued online and at public meetings about the pros and cons of the garden. Some neighbors have shared the position of Fuka that the garden will fence off public green space (a proposed six-foot welded-iron fence, by the way) and place it in private hands. “That’s ownership of the park,” Fuka told the gathering at the November Cherrywood meeting before the CNA vote. When someone noted the greenspace available in the rest of the park, Fuka countered, “That’s today, but we have to plan for the future.”

Other neighbors have agreed with Smolen that the garden will give back more than it taketh away. At the same Cherrywood meeting, Smolen cited such benefits as exercise, affordable organic food and educational opportunities for everybody, including regular events like potluck meals made from garden produce and demonstration days. He pointed out how the plan calls for native plants around the garden perimeter to attract butterflies, bees, and birds, and how gardeners will be encouraged to com- post neighborhood plant waste and keep an eye out for crime in the park.

Coming up from the ground when?

There seems to be no word yet when the city will decide on the garden. Smolen says he hopes to get neighborhood and city approvals in time to break ground and start planting by spring.

CAD Drawings Patterson Park Drawings Community Garden proposal August 2013

CAD Drawings Patterson Park Drawings Community Garden proposal August 2013

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