Community Gardens parade

Community Gardens members march in the June 2017 Ithaca Fest Parade. 

After years of negotiations and anxiety, a deal has been reached between the developers of the new Carpenter Business Park and the Ithaca Community Gardens that which was signed on Oct. 22. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) will keep the gardens in their current location in the Carpenter Business Park, even as the surrounding area is set for development. 

Garden staff and the residents who use it had been nervous about the gardens’ future for years, especially as development interest intensified at the site. Currently, Carpenter Business Park is set to be redeveloped for a project led by Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty, with Whitham Planning and Design helping craft the proposal. The mixed use project would include four buildings, including a medical office and three buildings of apartment units and parking. 

With the deal in place, the gardens are now looking at long-term security along with some improvements. 

“We’re working out the exact amount of money that comes through with the MOU but the gardens are looking at getting all new fencing,” Whitham’s Project Manager Yamila Fournier said. “Right now, the gardens have a challenge of dealing with a lot of makeshift fencing in order to deal with woodchucks coming in and stuff like that. Unfortunately, for the last few years, each garden plot needs to have its own fencing so what we’re looking at doing is being able to provide them with enough funds so they can get a single fence that goes all the way around the gardens that will be strong enough to keep out all the different animals.”

Along with this, Fournier added, a new water system will be set up for the gardens. Currently, gardeners have to haul large hoses from spot to spot with scattered locations around the gardens. They’ve created more hose hookups to alleviate the problem of gardeners lugging heavy hoses around their garden plots. Building B in the development will have a cistern near it for rainwater to collect into for the gardens to use. Marty Hiller, leader of the Community Gardens has recognized that, while the deal has taken quite some time, the work is necessary for the gardens to have a secure future. 

“We needed to talk back and forth enough to recognize that both sides win by working together toward a shared goal,” Hiller said. “We are getting an acre-for-acre land exchange, and with the regrading, they’ve agreed to do along the railroad edge we will have a comparable amount of ‘gardenable’ land in the new Gardens. Because of the NYSEG poles and access requirements, not all of the land is gardenable.” 

Hiller said the developers of the site are paying $185,000 toward hard costs, such as materials and labor, along with soft costs like design fees and contingency costs. She also said the developers will be working with the gardens and the City on a budget reconciliation if the final cost estimates go above the set amount. Since the gardens don’t have any financial resources to contribute because the gardens is volunteer-run. The few fees the gardens do charge are enough to cover the garden’s year-to-year expenses. The primary challenge the gardens has faced is figuring out how the design work would be done. However, Hiller is hopeful the work will further secure the gardens’ permanent future. 

“We have already moved gardeners out of the railroad side of the gardens, the part that’s west of Carpenter Circle, in anticipation of breaking ground on that side in the spring,” Hiller said. “The highway side will be done later, most likely over the winter next year. We will be working with the City over the next few months to get design approval and lease and land transfer negotiations done in time for spring construction. We’re expecting a very long-term lease with an option for permanence. With the lot being developed, there should be an end to the ongoing uncertainty we’ve had about our future.”

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