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Residents rally to save Durango’s only community garden

City Council hears from community members who want to prevent sale
Ohana Kuleana Community Garden members turned to City Council on Tuesday to buy the garden after it was put on the market for $950,000 this summer. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Durango residents packed the City Council chamber Tuesday to fight against the possible closure of the city’s only community garden.

Ohana Kuleana Community Garden in north Durango went on the market for $950,000 this summer after the city of Durango took no action on an offer to buy the 1.2-acre property for $475,000 in June.

The sale casts uncertainty over the 9-year-old garden’s future. Its 45 plots could be repurposed for multiple homes or even one large estate. During the City Council public comment period, almost 20 community members asked the city to buy the property and save it.

“Can we agree we preserve what we value?” said Stephanie Moran, a retired Durango educator. “As a community, we say we value open space, fresh and healthy vegetables, clean air for ourselves and our children – all of which this garden space offers.”

Ohana Kuleana, near 30th Street and East Fifth Avenue, opened for its first season in 2013. More than 100 people regularly use the space, which includes community and private plots, a food forest, composting system and other amenities, said Ohana Kuleana garden members.

It has provided hands-on learning for students – an opportunity future students should have, said a 12-year-old former Riverview Elementary School student. It provides a natural environment for intergenerational relationships to grow, said several community members.

In the future, the property could be a site for workshops, farmers markets or concerts. Agriculture students at Fort Lewis College could intern there, other speakers said.

“This has been an awesome presentation by all of you,” said Mayor Kim Baxter. “Your emotion and your caring is palpable.”

Funding for parks comes from dedicated sales taxes, which requires an official recommendation from the city advisory boards to City Council, Baxter said.

“The best way to make this happen is to go through that Parks and Recreation Advisory Board process,” she said.

The issue is that they have already tried that, said Chris Paulson, the garden’s communications director. They tried in 2006, but the effort stalled.

In May, the board met in executive session to discuss acquisition of open space or public lands, in this case the Ohana Kuleana Community Garden. The board took no action.

In June, City Council also took no action after meeting in executive session to discuss the sale of the garden.

“We are asking for a study session with the council,” Paulson said. “We want it to be open and transparent.”

Three of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members said the door is still open to discuss Ohana Kuleana and acquisition options.

Richard Speegle said, in his opinion, it would be a good purchase. Seth Furtney said he would consider other projects that are already in line for funding and the project’s financial implications. The city could create a community garden in any of the existing community parks for $20,000, he said based on a staff presentation.

“The door isn’t closed to future discussions,” said Anthony Savastano, chairman of the board. “The board has not taken an official position on a recommendation, in one way or another, to City Council with regard to the prospect of purchasing that property.”

smullane@durangoherald.com