MLK Garden Idea Raises Concerns, Questions
About 40 people came out Monday to discuss proposed community garden on a piece of town-owned land on Martin Luther King Avenue.
After a nearly 90-minute information session, Second Ward Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid's opinion remained the same. She does not want a community garden on a plot of preserved land on Martin Luther King Avenue.
Others at the informal meeting at Town Hall Monday were on the fence as to whether or not the Grow it Green Morristown-organized project was a good idea for land once home to a long-abandoned furniture store. But, several said they were willing to continue listening.
Smith-Reid organized the public meeting after Grow it Green—which also maintains another community garden on Early Street and The Urban Farm at Lafayette behind the Lafayette Learning Center—sought approval from the town in August to lease the plot of land for two years.
Smith-Reid, who at times raised her voice and choked up, called the issue a "very, very sensitive thing," as she and a number of others had fought to get the abandoned building removed and the land preserved about a decade ago.
With Grow it Green members Samantha Rothman and Carolle Huber looking on, Smith-Reid reiterated something she has said at previous meetings. "It is not that we do not want a community garden," she said. "The problem is the location. We worked very hard to get this area the way it is today."
Speaking to about 40 people, Rothman said, "this is what we (Grow it Green Morristown) are about, getting people here."
The non-profit organization's co-founder noted her group's concept for the Martin Luther King Avenue was only a proposal. She and Huber outlined the concept and presented some history to their organization, which started with the cleanup of a former junkyard that eventually became the Early Street Community Garden.
"We wanted to start seeing change, we didn't just want to talk about change," Rothman said. "We thought it would be a great way to get people together and promote civic engagement, regardless of politics or neighborhood. People like to garden."
Since its founding over three years ago, the Early Street Community Garden has grown beyond its footprint and now has over 50 people on a waiting list. Rothman noted those from the Second Ward on the list would be moved to the top for the MLK garden, were it built. She also said several area organizations, including Morristown Neighborhood House and Salvation Army, have expressed interest in plots.
The ladies said the plot on Martin Luther King Avenue, unlike other considered plots, has been the strongest contender because it's already preserved, it's on a parcel that did not flood during Hurricane Irene, and it is in an area where a large concentration of residents could walk or ride bikes to get there.
"We wanted it to be visible," Huber said. "We wanted people to see it and want to be part of it."
Chris Martin, an engineer and first African-American on the Town Council—in 1967—presented the rough draft of an alternative "Second Ward Leadership Monument Park," which would focus on Crispus Attucks, a black folk hero from the War for Independence. Martin said Helen Arnold, part of a group called "Concerned Citizens of the Second Ward" and a former town employee, recently asked him to draw up the proposal for the land.
"There seems to be a difference of opinion," he said, noting his involvement in developing Morristown's part of Patriots Path—specifically that section of the path—with others in 2000. "This last parcel of land is very important. I thought this [plan] would be a way we could tie these communities together. A park, a path and some ornaments celebrating African Americans, Italians, Irish, anyone who has contributed to the Second Ward."
William Johnson, a Second Ward resident for nearly 40 years, said he came to meeting not in favor of the community garden. After, he said he was willing to listen to more presentations.
Another attendee, who asked not to be named, said "it's all new to me.
"I haven't decided yet," she said. "I have to ask more questions."
"I do think it's a great tool to educate children, and for eating healthy," said one attendee, who also suggested a piece of land on Clyde Potts Drive as another option. Rothman said they were open to checking it out.
Smith-Reid isn't convinced.
"Their presentation hasn't changed. [My opinion] hasn't changed," she said. "The location is not the best place. I will help them find another."
Council President Michelle Dupree Harris, who has publicly criticized Smith-Reid's opposition to the project at past meetings, said she was optimistic, as long as everyone heard each other out.
"I see no reason why we can't work together," she said after the meeting, noting elements of Martin's proposal and the community garden could share the space.
"There needs to be a partnership. It should have happened within a year," Dupree Harris said. "Be open, people need to be willing to listen."