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Tomatoes Next Door: City Proposes 31 Garden Sites

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Community gardens could sprout all over Richmond next summer, if City Council approves a proposal allowing garden groups to claim unused city property.

But the proposal's not as simple as it sounds. Residents who want to plant on vacant lots would have to join a group, apply for a $50 permit, notify the neighbors, get liability insurance and sign a waiver before sinking any seeds in the ground.

Once gardeners start planting they must abide by a strict set of guidelines, according to the proposal. That means no growing pot (or any illegal plant), no alcohol, dogs, chickens, AstroTurf and or chemicals. Gardeners also aren't allowed to trap voles, steal tomatoes or throw rocks. Gardeners have to select a water source too, such as rain barrels or a portable water meter that attaches to a city fire hydrant.

City Council will hold a public hearing at its Nov. 22 meeting to consider the terms of the gardening program as well as the locations of the 31 pieces of land the city has evaluated and identified as good garden spots.

Some are leftover triangles, like the one bounded by Forest Hill Avenue, McDonough Street and West 33rd Street on the city's South Side. Some are roadside strips, such as the long, narrow piece along the north edge of Leigh Street between Middlesex and Dinneen streets.

Some are in tony neighborhoods. One, 519 Libbie Ave., is a rectangle of land used as a shortcut between Libbie and Granite avenues in the West End.

Some are just vacant lots between houses, like a piece of property on Pollock Street in Highland Park. James Bland, who has lived on the quiet dead-end street for 34 years, says the lot in question once was used (unofficially) as a garden by his neighbor.

Many of his neighbors have gardens, Bland says, and likely would approve of turning 410 Pollock St. into a garden: “Yeah, they would like it. I think so.”

Not everyone may, however. Councilman Chris Hilbert says he's heard from a North Side resident who was unhappy about a 0.3-acre lot on Hazelhurst Avenue, a storm-water management lot, being named as a potential garden site.

“There's not one blighted house on this block” and the neighbors don't want a garden there, the resident said to Hilbert.

Hilbert makes clear that he's not opposed to the garden project. But, he says, “I want some buy-in from the people who live next to it.”

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