Once upon a time, four lots on the northeast corner of Columbia and Second streets comprised a community garden. The garden had been established in 1993 on land owned by Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA), and over the course of years, there were times when it was vibrant and flourishing, the times when it was overgrown and neglected.
In 2013, after two decades of existence, the community garden was flourishing. It was being managed by Vanessa Baehr and Sarah Faulkner, there was an active volunteer board, and forty families had plots in the garden and grew a significant amount of their food there. It was then that Habitat for Humanity approached HCDPA wanting to acquire the land to build more of their passive houses. Habitat for Humanity claimed that longtime mayor Rick Scalera had promised them the plot; the community garden appealed to HCDPA to preserve the vitally important organic garden and its delicate ecosystem which had taken so long to develop. Tensions ran high.
In the end, what was decided was something like the Judgment of Solomon, if what Solomon had proposed had actually been carried out. HCDPA sold one of the four lots, a lot which was actually bigger than the other three lots combined, to Habitat for Humanity, and allowed Hudson Community Garden to continue to exist on the other three lots.
By 2016, the Habitat houses had been built, the families who had plots in the garden had found other places to grow their vegetables, and the garden at Columbia and Second streets ceased to exist. In May 2016, HCDPA announced that sealed bids were being accepted for 202, 204, and 206 Columbia Street. The bids were due on June 9, 2016. Either no bids were received or none was accepted, because HCDPA still owns the property.
Now there is new tension over the three lots that are all that remain of the community garden. At the HCDPA meeting in April, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) brought up the garden, saying that people want to use it, but the space needs to be cleaned out. Garriga asserted, "The people who need to grow food are using it." Branda Maholtz, the coordinator for HCDPA, explained that HCDPA did not have insurance to cover the use of the garden. She suggested that if there were a community group that would take responsibility to manage the garden, HCDPA could partner with that group. Garriga told Maholtz, "You're bringing us down." When Maholtz recalled that TSL was once involved with managing the garden and might be willing to do so again, Garriga snapped, "How disrespectful are you?"
Mayor Kamal Johnson intervened and volunteered to work with Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition (HCHC) to work out a solution, a solution that might involve Grow Black Hudson, a community gardening initiative started by Nkoula Badila.
At some time between HCDPA's April meeting and its May meeting, an individual whose identity was not revealed expressed an interest in purchasing the three lots. The person is considering buying another property in proximity to the lots. At last Tuesday's HCDPA meeting, Garriga observed, "We were talking about the community garden, now all of a sudden a buyer comes forth." She demanded to know "who told people that." It seems that, when learning about the interest in buying the property, HCHC made its own offer to buy the lots, and Quintin Cross and other members of the HCHC staff were present at the Zoom meeting on Tuesday, apparently with the expectation of making their case for acquiring the property. Maholtz had to explain that, as a public agency, HCDPA had to follow a process for disposing of the property, and the first step in the process was to get an updated appraisal. Claire Cousin, who is part of HCHC, responded to that information by saying she felt disrespected by City officials. Garriga said she wanted to schedule a special meeting to discuss the fate of garden, and June 1 was suggested as the date for that meeting.
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