Renaissance Corp. Discusses Continuing Community Gardens Program In City

Area residents with a green thumb can likely look forward to another summer of community gardens in Jamestown.

Members of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation met with the Jamestown Planning Commission on Tuesday to discuss possible amendments to the city code that would allow the community garden sites to continue operating. Currently, the city code bans agriculture within the city limits, but the community gardens were given a trial run over last summer to see how they would fare.

“We have one active farm in the city, and that’s Brigiotta’s on Jones and Gifford,” said Larry Scalise, building inspector. “The problem that we ran into is how to keep someone from buying 10 vacant lots somewhere and all of the sudden cultivating produce.”

According to Scalise, Peter Lombardi, executive director of the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation, came to him to propose the community garden concept and after a discussion regarding the issue that existed with the zoning laws, the gardens were tested on a trial basis last summer. The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation put together a package where they leased the property for the gardens from the landowners, took over responsibility and provided liability insurance.

“It meant that I had somebody that I could go after if the grass got out of hand or if it was becoming a nuisance,” said Scalise. “I had reservations because I was afraid of the possibility for vandalism, but I was wrong. The gardens fared extremely well, and I don’t know of any issues outside of a few instances of people taking produce that wasn’t theirs. What we’re looking for now is to get something down in writing so that I can enforce it and there is a distinction between somebody buying up a bunch of vacant lots to play farmer versus what the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is doing. We’re trying to come up with a concept to define exactly what a community garden is.”

In cities around the country that are pursuing this model of community gardening, it’s seen as both a way of beautifying vacant land that is empty and will likely remain empty and undeveloped otherwise, as well as connecting neighbors to something that they can work on together.

“We saw that happening quite a bit last summer,” said Lombardi. “At the garden on Lakeview, there was a veteran gardener that helped out many novice gardeners, so there’s a lot of cooperation there. Exactly what we wanted to happen, happened – it’s an exercise in community building. As more vacant lots open up in the city, it’s important to have some model in place where if you’re not rebuilding housing in those areas, you know what you’re going to be doing with the land. Going forward, it’s good to have a model like this in place that can be deployed where and when it’s appropriate.”

“When they develop these gardens on the properties, someone is taking care of the properties and they’re not becoming eyesores. It’s a very positive thing and we’ve talked about the potential of doing this near the adult high rise. It would give them something to connect to besides just their apartment unit.

The Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is not looking to develop more gardens that they control, but rather to encourage churches, neighborhood watch groups and other local communities to get in touch with the organization should they want to begin their own community gardens.

“We don’t want to see a centrally controlled network of gardens,” said Lombardi. “We want to help people make the arrangements to make community gardens that work, and we’ve already seen some interest from area churches.”

According to Scalise, there are several easy ways to keep the gardens in check. The raised beds that were used helped not only with erosion control, but they also helped to define the areas that were actually to be used for gardening. Regulations that could possibly go into the zoning amendments could include the necessity for raised beds and requiring only a certain percentage of land to be used for gardening on the lots.

“These will still give us the flexibility to work with people,” said Scalise. “There are some properties that are going to be unique, but we’re going to have to do our best to allow this to occur within reason. If we need to tweak a few things along the way, then that’s what we’ll do. We’re not going to get it perfect the first time. The gardens almost self-regulate themselves., though”

The language for the zoning amendments is slated to be ready by next month, but the process will take some time after that in order to be fully completed.

“I think if we can get this ready by next month, we should be in a good position for summer planting,” said William Rice, principal planner.