Community Garden in North Cambridge At Risk of Loss To Development.

Community Garden in North Cambridge At Risk of Loss To Development.

Do you like gardens? Do you like to meet your neighbors? A community garden is the Ideal place to do both. Even if you don’t have a plot yourself, walking through your local community garden can be one of the nicer experiences your neighborhood has to offer.

The residents of North Cambridge have enjoyed the use of the 65 plot garden at the corner of Whittemore Ave. and Magoun St. for around twenty years. This land was owned by the Nordberg nursery but was then sold to the Fawcett Oil Company which continued to allow residents to use the garden. Fawcett owns about three and a quarter acres along the Minuteman Trail and now wants to develop the land as housing. While they do not plan to build on the garden site, they do plan to sell it to a developer to help finance their larger project. The approximately 16,000 square foot parcel could be subdivided into three lots, each of which could site two dwelling units. The Cambridge Assessor’s Property Database shows this land assessed for $528,200.00. The owner thinks that he could get substantially more than that, and neighbors report that the going rate for a buildable house lot on the area is about 250K, making the realistic market rate price near $750.000.00. Fawcett, of course, is not giving details, but rumor has it that they are expecting closer to a million.

There are efforts underway to have the City of Cambridge acquire the land to preserve it as a community garden. These 65 plots are about 15% of the total community garden plots in Cambridge. Their loss would be a major setback to the city’s gardeners. and to the North Cambridge Community. Adding this land to the City’s garden program would prevent the loss of permeable open space, beauty, exercise, nutrition, and community building that the residents and gardeners now enjoy.

The City Council has discussed this and seems in favor of the idea. They went into Executive Session to talk about it at a recent meeting. While nobody is willing to say exactly what was said in the session, residents involved in the issue have suggested that there is the possibility of up to one million of our dollars being used for this purpose.

The process is not quite as simple as it seems. Even if the Council does direct the City Manager to acquire this land, there are many details to be worked out. First, the city is not allowed to pay more than the assessed value, and this lot seems to be under-assessed. Getting an updated valuation would be a first step. If there is an assessed value of 750K (higher seems unlikely), and the owner thinks he can get more there’s still a problem. What are the options in this case? One would be an eminent domain taking by the city. This is probably not going to happen. Cambridge just doesn’t do that very often, and there could be a long legal battle over proper compensation. The city could propose a transfer of development rights from the garden site to the larger development site, adding value to Fawcett’s project to make up the difference. This would probably generate some opposition to the added density, but I think it sure beats losing the garden itself to development. There are, no doubt, other schemes that I have not heard, and it seems like a great use for the 10% of Community Preservation Act funds that are allocated for acquisition of open space.

If you think that this is a worthwhile thing for the City of Cambridge to do with some of our money then please let our Councillors and the City Manager know that you support this acquisition. Even if you don’t live in North Cambridge, this could benefit you and your neighbors by keeping the waiting list for garden plots as short as possible for everyone. Consider it a gift to ourselves.

Here are some email contacts:

City Manager Robert W. Healy
citymanager@cambridgema.gov

The entire City Council
council@cambridgema.gov

Mayor:David P. Maher
(dmaher@cambridgema.gov)

Vice Mayor:Henrietta Davis
(hdavis@cambridgema.gov)

Leland Cheung
(LCheung@cambridgema.gov)

Marjorie C. Decker
(mdecker@cambridgema.gov)

Craig A. Kelley
(ckelley@cambridgema.gov)

Kenneth E. Reeves
(kreeves@cambridgema.gov)

Sam Seidel
(sseidel@cambridgema.gov)

E. Denise Simmons
(dsimmons@cambridgema.gov)

Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.
(TimToomey@aol.com)

You can also cast a vote for or against this at Localocracy Cambridge.

Photo by Mark Jaquith taken at the Community Garden on Lopez Ave. in East Cambridge.