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Green Party LogoGreen Party Opposes Restrictions on Community Gardens

GREEN PARTY OF PHILADELPHIA
http://www.gpop.org

FOR RELEASE January 22, 2013

Contact:
Carol McLean, 215-243-7103 and mcleansammi@yahoo.com
Chris Robinson, 215-843-4256 and chrisrecon@netzero.net

The Green Party of Philadelphia (GPOP, www.gpop.org) strongly opposes any changes to current zoning for community gardens. Neighborhoods depend upon these gardens for healthy food and a greener environment, but their very existence may be severely impacted during the current session of City Council.

Councilman Brian O'Neill, 10th District, has introduced City Council Bill 120917, legislation that seriously restricts community gardens and market farms in residential/commercial districts (CMX-2). Ironically, of all the council districts, O'Neill's has the least amount of this land type, yet he remains tight-lipped about his rationale for this bill.

Many Philadelphia residents enjoy fresh, inexpensive produce from local community gardens and market farms. The combo of acquiring healthy, affordable food while sustaining local agriculture appears to be a win-win situation.

"Bill 120917 targets one third of the community gardens in Philadelphia and would require all market farms and community gardens in those districts to obtain a special exception, similar to a zoning variance," said Chris Robinson, a member of the Green Party's City Committee. "A special exception requires a hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZVA), demanding significant time, energy, and expense. Gardeners, who do not or cannot comply, will face stiff fines, and this is wrong."

Glenn Davis of the Green Party's City Committee says, "There are over 40 thousand vacant lots in Philadelphia and implementation of this bill would only add to the blight that has taken over our city. We need more gardens with fresh, affordable and locally grown produce."

A vast number of the targeted community gardens are in poor neighborhoods. Residents there take great pride in converting vacant lots into safe, green plots. Some of those neighbors do not have easy access to fresh produce, do not have a personal plot of land for gardening and cannot afford the special exception fees for a zoning variance. Belinda Davis, the Green Party's treasurer, notes, "Such gardens replace land that collects trash and brings down property values, instead building community and contributing to civic pride."

According to Amy Laura Cahn, founder of the Garden Justice League Initiative at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, groups will have to pay the initial $100 fee, a $250 fee to appear before ZBA and the $25 fee for the use registration permit. The garden group will also need to provide a letter of support from a registered community organization [RCO], post notice of what they are proposing to do for 21 days, get a tax certificate that verifies no taxes are owed, and then appear before the ZBA with this documentation. In addition, each garden will have to provide scaled design drawings.

Carol McLean, Green Party membership secretary, calls this "a time-consuming, expensive and discouraging process. This type of legislation will inevitably dissuade communities from developing gardens in designated districts. City Council should laud the efforts of those who are making Philadelphia a greener, healthier place, rather than impose these ridiculous hurdles."

In August, 2012, Philadelphia adopted a new Zoning Code that, for the first time in 50 years, recognizes the importance of community gardens and farms, bringing healthy fresh produce back to our neighborhoods, while supporting creative solutions to ending blight. The Philadelphia Horticultural Society opposes Council Bill 120917, saying it is a step backwards, making Philadelphia less sustainable just as we are striving to be the "greenest city" in the country. It serves as a barrier to healthier, safer and more beautiful neighborhoods.

The Green Party of Philadelphia urges neighbors to call and email their District Council member and each of the At-Large Council members. Please ask that they support the current zoning code and oppose City Council Bill 120917. Please ask City Council to vote "no" on restrictions to community gardens and urban agriculture.

If you need the phone number and email address for City Council members, or want more information about the Green Party of Philadelphia, call 215-243-7103 or email gpop@gpop.org.

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