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Residents protest community garden idea

More than one resident attended the March 5 meeting of the County-Owned Property Committee to voice their opposition to establishing a community garden at the county farm.
“Who needs farmland in Jonesborough?” asked Bryan Tester of Emma Grace Drive. “Community gardens are for cities.”
During their November 2013 meeting, county commissioners unanimously approved County-Owned Property’s recommendation to set aside and preserve the Washington County Greenfield Farm building on Mt. Zion Road and immediate surrounding grounds and parking lot for the use of the Washington County Agriculture Extension Office. No plan has since been proposed for the office’s relocation.
In addition, the resolution states the grounds are to be used for other agricultural purposes including but not limited to use by the animal shelter for animals, use by the Washington County School system for projects, use by the caretaker of the farm for agricultural purposes, and use by the Sheriff’s Office for agricultural purposes.
At the Jan. 8 committee meeting, Chair Phyllis Corso asked resident Barbara Cara, also of Emma Grace Drive, to head up the discussion of a community garden with neighbors and bring back their input. Cara agreed, saying she is in favor of the garden.
However, at last week’s meeting, Commissioner Mark Ferguson said a discussion was not necessary. “I talked to the commission chair and the county attorney, and because the property is leased to Mike Collins, the commission does not have authority to make changes or implement a community garden,” he said.
According to Ferguson, only Collins could approve the project. “As a commission representative to that area, we want to do anything the residents want, and Mr. Collins has told me he has no problem, but we don’t want to get in the middle of neighbors,” he said.
Corso said it would behoove committee members to listen to the residents in attendance even though no action could be taken.
Tess Lloyd of County Farm Road said most of the neighbors adjacent to the farm do not agree with starting a garden. “There is problematic access, lack of parking, liability issues and security issues,” she said. “The access to the area is secluded and not secure, and there would be the (added) cost to the county to maintain the road and police it.”
Lloyd’s husband, Dan Kleeman, agreed. “Security is already an issue,” he said, referring to a person who drove an ATV through his yard and up to his front door in order to ask if he could use his driveway to get down to County Farm Road.
“People are coming onto the county farm now — what’s it going to be like once you open it up?”
Cara came to last week’s meeting with a map of residential homes surrounding the county farm and a board of photos. She indicated which houses could be seen from the garden site, saying they are all approximately 800 feet away and would not be passed by people traveling to the garden.
“You asked me to develop a plan, and the first thing I did was talk to Mike Collins,” she said. “He said (the garden) would not affect the amount of hay he needs to harvest.”
In addition, she received positive responses to the idea from members of a Jonesborough garden club and neighbors who attended a recent meeting she advertised with flyers.
Tester said he never knew about the meeting and only learned of the proposed project three days earlier. “This directly affects me,” he said. “I don’t see the need to turn it into public property. Everybody in the neighborhood has a half-acre lot.”
In Tester’s opinion, the whole project is opening a can of worms that will reduce privacy and negatively affect property values. “I think it will be an albatross to those trying to sell,” he said.
Corso said her neighborhood in Johnson City has had success with a neighborhood association. “My suggestion would be to go back to your neighbors and talk about it,” she said.
Kleeman said plans for a neighborhood organization are already in the works, with the first meeting planned for mid-to-late April.
Cara reminded committee members she undertook the project at their request.
“Apparently, this is not as simple as we thought,” Corso said.