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Aldermen want another look at West Side garden approval

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 08. 2013 11:29PM
A community garden is proposed for this site at the end of Dunham Street off of Varney Street near the Piscataquog River in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Some residents in a West Side neighborhood are resisting plans for a community garden on a vacant city plot near the bank of the Piscataquog River.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen heeded those concerns on Tuesday, voting to refer the proposal back to committee, two weeks after it gave the idea unanimous support.

Several residents of the neighborhood spoke out during the public comment period of Tuesday's meeting, arguing that they hadn't had a chance to review the plan or express concerns about traffic and safety.

Ann Flanagan, who has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years, said she was concerned about where the gardeners would park.

"It's a very small neighborhood, and it's a very busy area in the summer. You've got the pool, softball leagues," Flanagan said. "You cannot park other than on the pavement because of the proximity to the Piscataquog. There are no sidewalks there. If people park their cars there, the kids will have no alternative but to walk or bike in the street."

She added, "I think the safety issue has not been well thought out, and the plan to expand the garden has not been transparent."

The garden site is off Varney Street at the end of Dunham. As proposed, the "Dunham Community Garden" would consist of 28 raised beds on a portion of the land, which is owned by the city.

The beds would be allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, and its organizers also intend to work with the nearby Girls Inc., which works with underprivileged girls, and the Polaris Charter School.

No city funds would be used for the project.

The newly formed Manchester chapter of the New Hampshire Grange is the organizer of the project.

The proposal was approved in the Land and Buildings Committee last month and then sent to the full board later that evening, in order to enable gardeners to get seeds in the ground as soon as possible.

Ahead of the approval last month, Ellen Weist, the Grange's director, had furnished letters of support for the project, and indicated she had reached out to the neighborhood.

On Tuesday, Weist said she supported the motion to have the plan sent back to Land and Buildings Committee.

"The first step in our plan is to establish trust with the city," she said. "It is my understanding the process is not 100 percent complete."

Alderman Phil Greazzo, who represents Ward 10, where the garden would be located, made the motion for reconsideration at Tuesday's meeting.

"The neighbors didn't have the opportunity for public input," he said. "Obviously, there's some tension down there."

Not everyone who spoke at Tuesday's meeting was opposed to the garden.

Leah Fox said her lot overlooks the site. "I can't think of a better use for the empty space," she said. "It's an opportunity for programs for youth, for a sustainable environment. It encourages people to have a healthy diet and be stewards of the earth."

The decision to refer the plan back to committee makes it less likely that the garden will be planted this season. The next scheduled committee meeting isn't until next month, although a special meeting could be scheduled earlier.

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur urged quick action on the proposal. "I would do it now because planting season is now," he said.

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