CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A Cedar Rapids man is being forced to move a garden he planted on city property, but he's reached a compromise with the city. The garden is located near the corner of 1st Avenue West and 6th Street Southwest. On Monday, the city said that property was one of about 1,200 plots of land bought after the 2008 flood, with Community Development Block Grant funds. Because of this, the city said that land is only available for certain uses. Ed Thornton, who lives in an apartment directly adjacent to the property, saw potential in the empty, weed-filled lot back in 2011.
“I tilled up a small piece of soil back here, and started growing a garden,” said Thornton.
Thornton grew and expanded it to about 1,500 square feet with dozens of types of vegetables. He shared and ate food from this soil with no problems until about mid-June this year. That's when he received a letter from the city, calling it a trespassing violation. The dispute caused a local support effort to take root, including a YouTube video and a petition, with thousands of views and signatures.
“I have letters from neighbors all up and down here, the businesses included, saying ‘don't tear this down,'” Thornton told us.
However, Sandi Fowler, assistant city manager, had a simple answer for why this lot needs to stay empty:
“We've offered it to developers, for both the single-family housing program called Roots, as well as the multi-family housing program that has applications underway right now,” Fowler explained.
Fowler said properties bought with CDBG funds require city inspections, but that hadn't yet happened at this lot. It was only after the city received a citizen complaint, that it was called to their attention. With so many empty city-owned lots, Fowler acknowledges some of them end up being eye sores.
“We aren't able to maintain every vacant lot as you would hopefully maintain your own personal front yard,” Fower said.
Still, supporters of Thornton's garden see empty, overgrown lots like this as missed opportunities.
“I don't think they looked at the opportunity they were missing with having an urban garden, or the potential that could be there,” said Rebecca English, a friend of Thornton's and one of the people who signed his petition.
The city has reached a deal with Thornton. He has been instructed to remove the fire pit near the garden. Then, the garden itself needs to be out by October 31st this year to make way for possible future development.
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