This story has been edited to reflect the following correction: The parcel containing the garden is not scheduled for a hearing in May for rezoning.
OBERLIN — After nearly a decade of operation, Legion Field Community Gardens will no longer be available to the public after the end of this month.
City Manager Rob Hillard said he had received a letter from Michael Sabiers, president of the Board of Directors for Zion Community Development Corporation, on Feb. 25, stating that due to “challenges within the organization” it couldn’t continue supporting the garden. Zion CDC had hoped to donate the equipment and materials at the garden, including the greenhouse stored at 77 Orchard St., to the city. Under the contract with the city, according to city Law Director Jon Clark, Zion CDC would have to remove the equipment and materials if the city declined to accept the donation.
“Looking to the future, we do hope that the garden will soon find a welcome home as a city-sponsored activity within the purview of the recreation division,” Sabiers said in the letter.
After a tense discussion among Council members and the public about the garden during Monday’s meeting, Council voted not to accept the equipment at the garden and to allow the city’s contract with Zion CDC to expire. The motion was passed 4-3 with Council members Sharon Pearson, Heather Adelman and Linda Slocum voting against it.
No representatives from Zion CDC attended the meeting, and Council President Bryan Burgess said the corporation hasn’t explained its situation any further.
The community garden at Legion Field Park off Hamilton Street has been operating since 2010. The city owns the property and provided the land at no cost to Zion CDC. Dozens of individual soil beds were available for people to use in the community garden. Under the agreement, Zion CDC could charge a fee to use individual plots or open gardening areas.
Residents and members of the community garden asked city officials to reconsider abandoning the garden during the Monday meeting. Peter Crowley, Oberlin resident and garden manager, said his children would spend hours working in the garden.
“The testimonies of others should illustrate the truth that the garden exists because it meets needs that are not met in other Oberlin activities and other organizations,” he said to Council. “We offer residents of all ages and capacities space and support to grow their own food.”
Crowley asked the city to help them find grants to help fund the garden. He said another option could be to find another organization to support the garden.
Meanwhile, resident Bryan Kenyon said the garden has been more of an eyesore lately. Although he wasn’t against community gardening, he complained about how the garden was neglected, with weeds several feet high and little produce actually being made, with more flowers being grown instead.
Burgess said if there was more time to address the problem, he would, but Zion CDC requested that the contract end, and Monday’s meeting was the only one during which Council could discuss the matter before the contract expires March 31.
“I sympathize with them, they put a lot of work into that site and they want to see it continue; I’d like to see it continue, but apparently it can’t,” he said.
Although the garden may not be available under Zion CDC, Burgess said another community garden could be set up somewhere that isn’t city property.