Town of Westport CT School Building Committee Recommends Destruction of Nationally Awarded Community Garden and Preserve
Recommendation Expected to Negatively Impact Seniors, the Environment, Sustainability, Open Space and the Town’s Previous Commitment to Carbon Neutrality
WESTPORT, Conn., Oct. 06, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Just days after the Westport CT Community Gardens (WCG) received the American Community Garden Association (ACGA) award in the Sustainability Category 2023 Best Community Garden competition, town officials are proposing to destroy it to make way for a ball field.
The Westport CT Long Lots School Building Committee (the “Committee”), appointed by First Selectwoman Jen Tooker, voted yesterday (October 5th) to submit a recommendation which includes the removal of the current Westport Community Gardens and Preserve as well as a portion of the adjacent Long Lots Preserve, a newly established model of suburban environmental rehabilitation.
The proposal for the ball field is included in plans to rebuild an aging elementary school. It is not part of the school rebuilding specifications, but rather falls under the town’s Parks and Recreation activities.
“This is a pork barrel appropriation for ball fields, under the cover of a much-needed new elementary school. The Long Lots students will not use this ball field, and the Board of Education did not call for it,” said Lou Weinberg, chairman of the WCG Steering Committee.
If the recommendation is accepted and other approvals are secured, the Westport Community Gardens and Long Lots Preserve, which has stood adjacent to the Long Lots Elementary School for over 20 years, will be removed and, in its place, the Town will add yet another ball field. There are no other community gardens in Westport CT.
The plan submitted by the Committee proposes a new location — but the gardeners will need to start over.
“It will take decades to recreate what we have now. And, in the meantime, we will lose the environmental benefits of the garden and preserve,” said Weinberg.
“Soil scientists have described to me that disturbing agricultural soil is akin to having an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, and forest fire simultaneously on the world of soil organisms,” said Toni Simonetti, a master gardener and member of the WCG Steering Committee. “How do you recover from that?”
The Committee chose to make its recommendation despite widespread opposition from members of the community. Homeowners adjacent to the garden are concerned about the water runoff in an area where flooding can be an issue. Noise, lights, and traffic from the ball field activities are another issue, the neighbors say.
More than two dozen businesses and organizations have signed a letter of support for the gardens and preserve and are concerned about the loss of green open space as the town struggles with rapid population growth, traffic quagmires, and a dizzying pace of new and concentrated development.
The town of Westport’s commitment to Carbon Neutrality is negated by the destruction of this garden, which currently acts as “carbon sink.” Indeed, according to the University of CT College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, carbon pool in soil is >3X higher than in the atmosphere and 4X higher than the amount stored in all living plants and animals. And one acre of cover crops can sequester 440lbs of CO2 per year. The WCG spans four acres, which equates to 1,760 lbs. of CO2 that the WCG is capturing. This is a clear setback to the promise of Carbon Neutrality for the town of Westport.
Moreover, this garden helps with drainage, which is currently a problem in this area of Westport. It is estimated that the garden can absorb 66,000 gallons of water during storms. As Weinberg, notes, “Uprooting the garden and preserve will destroy the ecosystem and potentially expose our neighbors to additional water runoff, further complicating an issue that they have been dealing with for years.”
The removal of the Long Lots Preserve will also be a huge loss in that it is part of the pollinator pathway and a model of how to improve suburban environmental health. This $40,000 two-year project is nearly complete after volunteers removed aggressive invasive plants and installed hundreds of native plantings, including keystone trees such as mature Pin Oak, Red Oak, Scarlet Oak, and Swamp White Oak.
The gardeners are asking the Town to reject this recommendation. As Weinberg says, “Westport residents have poured their hearts, souls, sweat, and sometimes tears into creating these gardens. It is truly a magical place. Any other town in America would celebrate, promote and protect what we have created here. Why would we want to destroy it—especially given the threat of climate change?”
About Westport Community Gardens
The Westport Community Garden, located at 13 Hyde Lane since 2001, is a self-funded member-based green space in which residents and employees of the town can garden on a sunny plot up to 10’ x 40 ‘. Any town resident or employee is eligible to apply for a plot. There are more than 120 plots currently being cultivated by residents of all ages. Vegetables, fruits and flowers are prevalent as are native plantings to create a pollinator pathway. Garden members use their own hands to build raised beds and support structures for their gardens; tools are donated; communal space is cared for; and fresh produce is regularly donated to those in need. Additionally, town residents with support from the WCG more recently cleared the surrounding acreage of invasive plants and trees and created a thriving native habitat now called the Long Lots Preserve.
WCG Steering Committee and Master Gardener
|Source: Westport Community Gardens|
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