Will A Community Garden Grow in Red Bank?

April 6, 2012
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RED BANK —A community garden might become a reality in the borough this year, but it’s unlikely that the garden’s organizers will get use of the riverfront site they requested.

Community garden supporter Annie Jones at the Red Bank Borough Council meeting./Photo: John Burton

The discussion—or more accurately, argument—over the location of a community garden again came to the forefront at last Wednesday’s Borough Council meeting, as the governing body and the garden’s proponents made their cases for why one location would be more appropriate than another.

In the latest go-round this week, the council proposed  a borough-owned lot on Marion Street, in the borough’s east side.

That location, however, was not met with unanimous approval, as garden advocates again continued to push for use of 94 West Front St., a parcel adjacent to the public library that overlooks the Navesink River.

“This is the perfect spot,” said Cindy Burnham, one of the most vocal advocates for using the West Front Street location.

“We went through a process of elimination,” explained Councilman Edward Zipprich.

He and Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, “identified three or four locations that would be appropriate,” for a community garden, Zipprich said.

Among the sites the council members considered were borough-owned lots on Berry Street and Mohawk Lane. They also considered using a portion of the NJ Transit commuter rail station, along with others, he said.

The garden proponents say the property next to the public library is the ideal spot, but they also suggested using a portion of Marine Park or part of the parking lot for Maple Cove, a natural area at the northern end of Maple Avenue, overlooking the river.

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The garden committee, originally established by the mayor to look at the options, objected to the council’s selections, and the council objected to the committee’s choices, especially 94 West Front St. and Marine Park.

The topic has been contentious since it was first broached more than a year ago. The borough council, while stressing they supported the idea of a community garden, opposed the West Front Street location, because of the reservations expressed by library board members and the limited amount of available open space owned by the borough.

“I feel it is my job to save the open space,” for a wider use by the public, said Councilwoman Sharon Lee. “I don’t feel it’s the best use of that property.”

But when council members proposed the the Marion Place lot, Burnham resisted and others continued to lobby for the West Front Street site.

“We haven’t heard a really good reason for why not,” Locust Avenue resident Kathleen Gasienica told the council.

Burnham, a Fair Haven resident who owns a Red Bank rental property, has been out front on this debate, challenging the council and forcing the issue. She and others insist the council hasn’t offered a compelling reason for its opposition to the Front Street property.

Last week, Burnham argued that the Marion Street site is not ideal either, since it sits in a residential neighborhood and might face resistance from neighbors.

The Marion Street property is approximately 129 by 40 feet and was once used as a pumping station for the borough’s water utility.

“Let’s try Marion Street,” Horgan said. And if there were neighbors’ concerns, the gardeners could use at the 900 square-foot Maple Cove site, on a year’s trial basis, she said.

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“We all want a garden,” Lee said. “We just want a place where it should go.”

The garden committee will be responsible for “reasonable guidelines,” for establishing and managing the garden, Mayor Pasquale Menna said.

As for the Marion Street location, Tony Sloan, a self- described “farming engineer” who works with the garden organizers and has volunteered on Eatontown’s and Tinton Falls’ town gardens, said in a voice message that he had visited that site on two occasions to evaluate its viability. “Let’s just say if the borough were playing baseball with this, they would have hit a home run with bases loaded,” he said. “This should have been the first place they recommended.”

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