By LINDA MOSS
With some members arguing that the guidelines need more work, the Township Council for a second time pulled a resolution to adopt rules to regulate community gardens off its agenda, pushing the matter until next year.
At its meeting Tuesday night the local governing postponed taking action on the resolution, tabling it, as it did at its Nov. 28 session. This time the resolution was withdrawn at the request of First Ward Councilman Bill Hurlock and at-Large Councilman Rich McMahon.
Both voiced their concern about two portions of the community garden guidelines. One states that any change to the design or foliage of parks and other public areas “must follow proper township administrative procedures and be approved by the Township Council.”
The council this year has been grappling with how to control the private use of public space following new initiatives at Crane Park and a mural on a Glenridge avenue wall. The issue of who regulates community gardens, and where they can be placed, came up this summer when a community garden and a farmers’ market, which was initiated by the Montclair Center Business Improvement District, were planned for Crane Park. Some township officials complained that the proper channels weren’t followed.
Under the proposed community garden guidelines, if someone doesn’t obtain prior written approval, they “must pay a penalty to the township, a fine of equal or higher value to the plants harmed plus the incurred cost of labor to restore the damage.”
For example, McMahon said the part of the guidelines about the penalties is ambiguous, in that they are not really explained, nor is who has jurisdiction and who decides what constitutes a design change in a public area.
He and Hurlock, who both said they supported the idea of community gardens, also told their fellow council members that they were uncomfortable with the part of the guidelines related to new construction.
The guides say that all new affordable housing units be encouraged, or required, “to contain designated yard or other shared space for residents to garden,” and that “all or some new construction, such as multifamily residential, commercial, institutional or public construction” be encouraged or required “to incorporate green roofs and/or edible landscaping, and encourage the use of existing roof space for community gardening.”
Mayor Robert Jackson also raised a question about the guidelines, citing a section that says the Department of Community Services should identify possible sites for community gardens on on public property “larger than half an acre,” such as parks, public easements and surplus property.
“A half acre, that’s a lot,” Jackson said.
Following the November council meeting revisions were made to the guidelines at the request of Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller. But those changes didn’t satisfy Hurlock and McMahon’s reservations about the regulations.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville asked that any council members who had issues with the proposed guidelines put their concerns in writing them they could be given to the Township Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Advisory Committee.
Jackson said the council could take action on the resolution either at its Jan. 9 conference meeting or its Jan. 23 regular meeting.
The council kicked off its meeting by announcing the winner of a contest for local middle school students to create a logo for the municipality’s 150th anniversary next year. There were 209 participants in the competition, according to Jackson.
The first place winner was Dylan Baddeley, a Glenfield School student. Odalys Jimenez, another Glenfield student, and Sofia Abrahamson, who attends the Renaissance School, both got honorable mentions for their designs.
During the rest of its meeting the council took care of end-of-year business, adopting salary ordinances for seven unions, including police and firefighters. The governing body also passed resolutions to reappoint legal counsel that do work for the township, including renaming Joseph Angelo municipal prosecutor and Peter Russo as municipal public defender.
Jackson ended the meeting by saying the township is on track at the end of this year to have $171 million in debt, down $52 million, from the $223 million it was when the current council took office.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the community garden at Crane Park received approval from the township.