DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald
Shared Harvest, a community garden east of Durango, has a waiting list of 40 families wanting to grow their own fruits and veggies while already accommodating 70 gardening families, said Mary Jackson, a gardener involved in the project.
“There’s such a hunger in this community for garden space,” she said.
On Monday, the taste for more locally grown produce found some satisfaction as the Durango Planning Commission unanimously recommended the city’s first community garden for a 1.2 acre lot near East Sixth Avenue and 30th Street, or directly downhill from Riverview Elementary School.
Greg Hoch, the city’s chief planner, anticipates there will be more such projects because the community gardening has become so popular across the country. “They are really happening right now,” Hoch said.
Bob Lieb, the developer, said he was inspired by Growing Power Inc., an urban farm in Milwaukee that grows produce for the inner city, selling $16 baskets of vegetables and fruit to feed a family of four for a week. Growing Power is the project of Will Allen, a former professional basketball player and the son of share croppers who was awarded a $500,000 “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation.
Lieb, whose company Durango Threadworks leases the property from La Plata County, said he “does not expect to make a nickel,” viewing it as a community-service project.
He calls the garden Ohana Kuleana, which is Hawaiian for “community responsibility.”
Through the Boys and Girls Club, Lieb already has raised $5,000 for the garden, which would allow individuals and groups to cultivate their own plots for a nominal fee.
“I believe it’s for a higher good, we should be growing our own food,” said neighbor Judy Seiler whose house is adjacent to the proposed garden.
A garden was viewed as a good fit for the space because neighbors have long opposed the residential development of the property, preferring a park or garden. Some neighbors don’t think of the garden as much of a risk either.
“If this doesn’t work, it’s reversible,” said Bruce Spining. “I don’t know if it will succeed. I don’t see any reason for it not to go forward.”
Some neighbors, however, raised concerns about traffic and weeds springing up as the result of disturbed dirt on the property. The dirt would be used to construct 6-foot-tall berms around the perimeter of the property.
“Disturbed dirt will pick up thistles in a hurry,” said neighbor Jerry Crawford.
To alleviate concerns, the Planning Commission attached a series of conditions as part of recommending the project onto the City Council for further review, such as not allowing retail sales or livestock on the property.
The proposed development would have to accommodate 23 parking spaces with a gravel surface. Gardeners would not be allowed to park in the neighborhood. Because it was recommended through a conditional-use permit, a zoning change was not required, which some neighbors thought should have been necessary if the land is to be used by the public.
Under its current zoning, the land can accommodate three homes. If it was rezoned as public property, the land could lose much of its resale value, Lieb argued. It would be too risky to take on the project.
Lieb’s Durango Threadworks pays $3,600 in rent annually a year with an option to buy for $300,0000. The lease started in 2011 and runs through 2020,
Instead of a permanent restroom, the garden will have portable toilets, which also raised a stink with some planning commissioners and neighbors, but the commission decided the neighbors could always come back to the city if the toilets prove to be a problem.
The project will now go to the City Council in the next month.
If approved, Lieb would like to do site work over the summer and work out operational details over the winter.
“My timetable is to be planting next spring,” Lieb said.