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Westport, CT: Community Garden Plan Advances

  • Subject: [cg] Westport, CT: Community Garden Plan Advances
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 12:06:01 -0400

Community Gardens Plan Advances
Don Casciato

It might still take a while for a harvest, but supporters of Westport's Community Gardens gained ground Wednesday after action by the Board of Selectmen.
The project - with a price tag of about $30,000 - has been hobbled by bureaucratic battles with the Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon and ethical issues about whether those working their plots need background checks.
The question was raised because of the proximity of the gardens to Long Lots Elementary School and the possibility of Westporters listed on the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry using his or her plot as a means of meeting children for illicit activities.
As a step in resolving the conflicts, additions and changes to the Parks and Recreation Department's rules and regulations were approved by the board. [See details at end of the story.]

Eligibility Issues
Despite the progress in approving the rules and regulations for the project, problems remain in what might be best described as an "only in Westport" moment.
During his presentation, in response to a question by Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein, Director of Parks and Recreation Stuart S. McCarthy said Westport residents as well as town employees who lived elsewhere, were eligible for gardening.
Lowenstein said the P&Z commission's definition of a Westporter didn't include somebody who works for the town and lives elsewhere.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff pointed out that privileges are sometimes granted to town workers, but said he understood the P&Z position.
"We will work it out," said McCarthy and Lowenstein countered that she hoped residents would get the first chance.
There are between 30 and 32 plots but they can be divided so that upwards of 50 to 60 people could use the land.
Dick Lowenstein, an RTM member from District 5, observed that the hand pass requirement for the gardeners helps to identify them, but he believes a background check doesn't "have any effect at all. The policy reflects concerns that are not relevant. There are too many defects in it."
Dick Lowenstein and some others said that they had expected to see Landon at the meeting because of his role in the earlier controversy over whether background checks were needed or if hand passes would be sufficient.
In regard to making changes, Joseloff said that according to the Town Charter the Board of Selectmen can approve or reject items, but it can't modify proposals.
"Only gardeners will suffer from further delays," said Allen Bomes, an RTM member from District 7. In addition, he said that the PTA at Long Lots had not been briefed and that in his opinion open government was lacking in the decision-making process.
Bomes continued: "The town has to be held to a higher standard. This is flat out discriminatory against gardeners."
John Izzo, the board's Republican selectman, had been critical of some aspects of the proposal, but voted with the majority in a 3-0 vote. "I feel a lot of these ordinances are feel good [items]," he said. "Most of the gardening will be done when school is closed."

Revised Regulations
The additions and changes to the Parks and Recreation Rules and Regulations as recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission and approved by the Board of Selectmen follows:

Section X
1. Gardening shall be permitted on the Community Gardens without any hand pass when school is not in session. Gardeners may bring guests at any time when school is not in session.
2. Community Gardens are closed between 8 and 9 a.m. and between 3 and 4 p.m. weekdays when school is in session.
3. When school is in session, all gardeners must have a Community Garden photo hand pass.
4. A limited number of Community Garden guest passes may be issued by the Parks and Recreation Department if the guest is sponsored by a Community Garden hand pass holder, subject to all other Parks and Recreation Regulations.

Section III. 3. K
No hand pass shall be issued to any person listed on the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry for any activity taking place during periods of time when school is in session on or adjacent to any school property. Such individual shall receive written notice denying the hand pass sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
Any such individual denied a hand pass shall have the right to appeal this decision within fourteen days of the date of the denial by sending a written request mailed by certified mail to the director, Parks and Recreation Department. Upon receipt of such written request, a hearing shall be scheduled before the Parks and Recreation Commission within thirty days to review the original denial.

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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