RUGN's map of its proposed community garden at 734 Marquette St.
As director of city development, Brian O'Connell's job doesn't usually involve agreeing not to develop land. But on O'Connell's recommendation, the city's Redevelopment Authority agreed to do just that Wednesday.
The RDA approved the Racine Urban Garden Network's ambitious plan to create a community garden on just over an acre of land at 734 Marquette St. The committee gave the new non-profit organization a five-year lease on the property, which effectively takes it off the market through 2015.
O'Connell admitted during Wednesday's meeting he usually doesn't support community gardens on land set aside for development. But he said the down economy and RUGN's well thought out plan convinced him a garden would be a good fit on the Marquette Street site.
"I feel confident we can work with them," he said.
Kandy Meyers and Nikki Aiello, of RUGN, presented the community garden plan to the RDA. Meyers said the site will lease out up to 80 plots on a sliding scale and include a food pantry plot, roadside garden beds, a dog walk area and a rain garden to collect stormwater runoff.
Under the lease with the RDA, which is the technical owner of the property, RUGN will take over the site "as is," O'Connell said. If the nonprofit secures a conditional-use permit for the garden, which shouldn't be a problem, its first task will be test soil on the site for contaminants. If the soil is dirty, RUGN will fill raised garden beds with soil trucked into the site.
Another challenge is water for the garden plots. There's no water hookup to the property, which means gardeners will have to carry in their own or rely on rain. Aiello and Meyers said they'll use rain barrels and other tanks to get water to the site.
RDA members approved the garden unanimously. It now goes to the City Council for final approval.
RUGN is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting gardening in the Racine area. The nonprofit's website says:
RUGN seeks to promote a strong gardening effort in the Racine area, and to create a network of resources and education to improve sustainable gardening and farming. RUGN will serve as a central point to connect individuals and organizations that each have visions for their own gardens, and to find available land and resources for people to start gardening projects. The goal is to facilitate communication amongst all who have the initiative to start a garden.