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You can help save the community garden and neighborhood institution
Kids posing at garden

The award-winning neighborhood institution, Kossuth Street Garden (KSG), is in grave danger.

A developer wants us to go away so he can build 10 expensive homes on 641 E Kossuth Street. But to succeed at this point, he needs changes approved by the City of Columbus for zoning and variances, based on advice of our South Side Area Commission.

The site of our majestic and beloved 12-year-old award-winning community garden was sold and the new developer now wants us out, as he will build 10 new "affordable homes" at $250,000 to $350,000 each and likely ask for tax abatements next spring. The land is zoned "commercial" and the developer needs a "residential" zoning change in order to build.

New owner Tracy Cohen, the Carroll, Ohio developer, offered to sell us the section where the garden/green space is on October 23 this year.

But then on November 10, he went back on his promise, as that would impact his bottom line and decrease his profits.

We say a city can have a peaceful co-existence between community gardens/green space and developers if it is done with the steady, firm hand of socially conscientious zoning and urban planning.

This matter will be decided by Columbus City Council at their December 7, 2020 open meeting. We cite the 2017 City of Columbus study attached that states that whenever a farmer’s market or well-maintained community garden is on a site proposed for a zoning change that great consideration be given to zoning in those "Commonwealth" places.

Ironically, three weeks ago, the Kossuth Street Garden won the Franklin Park Conservatory 2020 Growing to Green ``Neighborhood Impact Garden of the Year." With that came a commendation from Columbus City Council in its entirety and all three Franklin County Commissioners.

We need public support so we can move City Council to implement their stated policy intentions from the 2017 report, amongst many other reasons.

Can the Southern Orchards Civic Association help?

On November 10 at the SOCA vote, the developer's proposed re-zoning went down, but his three variances passed. Voting was limited to dues-paying members only (not unlike a poll tax) and thus the pool was only 10 people. The greatly impoverished wrote that they could not easily spare the dues, but wanted to have their voices heard.

SOCA was in agreement with the KSG proposal to hold back zoning changes until the developer commits to a peaceful co-existence with the garden by selling the KSG the 130 feet by 60 section where our community gardens is located.

I've been trying to get our by-laws changed at the civic level to allow any resident of Southern Orchards to vote. Our top leadership has not submitted the changes our by-laws committee agreed upon in late February 2020 to a vote. Only one of our elected leadership went for the common sense solution proposed by the KSG.

We thank you, Donna Hughes, SOCA treasurer. You're a friend of smart, equitable urban planning through your vote with the KSG. 

Background

On October 23, we asked the developer if he would sell us the 60 foot by 130-foot area where the garden sits somewhat majestically.

He said that maybe we could find a public/private partnership that would give him an offer.

We then dutifully contacted the Obama Foundation knowing that Michelle Obama's keystone is building and preserving community gardens, fitness and nutrition as a means of delivering on social justice promises.

The garden's board of advisers has many mutual friends with the Obama family and await an answer as we have also sent emails to "Share Our Strength" "No Kid Hungry" and other local and national foundations.

As those outreach efforts were underway, a change of heart came from the developer.

We were asked to leave the property entirely with no date set but construction was planned for Spring 2021.

On November 10, the developer offered us $5,000 to leave and try to find another plot but gardens are living organisms and not easily moved.

Again, we told him that he would make more money in the long run with a beautiful garden and green space near his homes and that real estate studies show this to be true.

This has much to do with smart urban planning and zoning in green spaces/community gardens next to housing developments.

It is forward-thinking urban design.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) has a garden that we had prior plans to assist folks in finally getting truly operational three blocks away and we had already reached out to Tim Mount, lead gardener at the NCH Ronald McDonald House to aid that garden in 2021.

Tim Mount won "Gardener of the Year" from Franklin Park Conservatory "Growing to Green" the same night last month that the KSG won "Neighborhood Improvement Garden of the Year.

There's that mutually beneficial equation again.

A recent study of Columbus tree canopy and green space shows a distinct lack of such compared to cites such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh Chicago and Milwaukee.

Once a green space is gone, it is gone for many decades into the future.

Kossuth Street Garden History

We are much more than an award-winning garden. We are a social justice and empowerment zone.

You may know we live and garden in an area that is third worst in the U.S for black infant mortality and our garden has fought for proper nutrition, education and fitness for young mothers and at-risk children. Our programs are making a difference in that morbid statistic among the many other social justice issues we face and find solutions in no small way.

Our partnerships through the years are impressive and we've had more than 400 people volunteer here since we began in 2012.

We've had "Get Out The Vote" events every year and kids art (Art $ Justice) this summer as families made yard signs touting social justice after the murder of George Floyd.

We are largely an education garden teaching nutrition and science in a unique way but also find people jobs.

We also work with the Franklin County Juvenile Court helping kids in the system get in their community service time and learn how to work in teams and give and receive respect.

We have cremains of area homicide victims in an attempt to heal families and our neighbors.

We also have memorials to fallen police, firefighters, community contributors, artists and activists such as Emily Noble, Ruben Castillo Herrera and Amber Evans.

The adjoining green space is a safe place where neighbors meet and our new flower boxes help us grow bouquets which are brought to places that house and work with at risk children at Huckleberry House, Nationwide Children's Hospital, The Reeb Center and the homeless camps.

Our garden is an after school safe zone for kids as they learned math and science skills from our qualified staff.

Our "Little Library" was one of the first on the south side and is a source of cherished and sometimes elusive happiness for kids who may not own anything of their own.

We are much more than a garden, as you can see.

How You Can Help

At the top, this is request that you write Columbus City Council before December 1, 2020 and if you live on the South Side, South Side Area Commission (SSAC) before their meeting on November 24.

Ask that they implement the advice of the City of the Columbus 2017 study (go to this City of Columbus webpage, scroll to the bottom and download the report) and find a way to zone us in to a developer's plans as is done in many other major U.S. cities with great value to both the community and with value added to a development that incorporates green space and commonwealth grounds.

The point is we can indeed have both an award-winning garden and a wonderful housing development where both entities benefit and thus the City of Columbus and citizens are mutually aided.

We don't live in a binary world. We see it as a win/win for all involved.

For legal standing, we point to the Ohio Supreme Court case Duncan v Middlefield Twp that states that community needs can take precedent over a developer’s housing plans.

Write:

•          Council's zoning chair Priscilla Tyson's aide, Nichole Harper at nnharper@columbus.gov

•          Curtis Davis, zoning chair of SSAC at cdavis@team-icsc.com

•          SSAC Southern Orchards civic rep Atticus Garden at atticusgarden@gmail.com

•          If you are a South Side resident, write your own neighborhood's rep to the SSAC.

If you live outside the South Side, feel free to send letters to other City Council members and/or Ms. Tyson's aide.

Final Thoughts

Decisions made in the next few weeks in this frightful year of 2020 affect people here and now and yet unborn and families yet formed who may find much needed peace and a sense of community in our little piece of paradise.

Google our name and see the national and international media coverage we've received.

Speak to neighbors as well as doctors, nurses, educators, police, firefighters, psychologists and especially kids whose lives we've turned around by simply being part of a that respects them.

National and local media are asking to do follow up stories and we'd like to give them a happy, mutually beneficial final chapter.

Again, why can't we have both in place – an award winning garden and a welcoming housing development?

I always have to remind myself in my workaday world of this Bible quote: Mark 8:36 "What does it profit a man if he gains the entire world and forfeits his soul?"

Thank you,
Michael Doody
Founder/Director
Kossuth Street Garden