Ever since supporters of the Filbert Street Garden learned the city might displace them in order to build a water pumping station, they’ve been working to save the revered South Baltimore community hub.
The Department of Public Works informed them by letter recently that DPW will “subdivide and deed over” the city-owned land to the group – if officials could find an alternative site for the pumping station.
“It’s really good news on the one hand: it’s the first time they’ve said they would give us the land,” said Greg Sawtell, an organizer with United Workers and part of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust that has been seeking the garden parcel in Curtis Bay.
But with no idea when DPW will decide whether or not it needs to take over the Filbert Street Garden property, its supporters remains in limbo.
“The bad news is there’s still this ambiguous timeline,” Sawtell said, noting that DPW first disclosed that the garden was in jeopardy in February.
On Wednesday, Sawtell, along with garden manager Rodette Jones, Destiny Watford and other supporters, went to the downtown office of DPW Director Rudy Chow to deliver an ultimatum:
They demanded that DPW publicly commit to community ownership of the garden by May 29, Taxpayers’ Night hosted by the City Council.
“It is simply unacceptable to ask residents who have suffered environmental injustices that have resulted in polluting our community, saddled us with coal piles, chemical fumes and a trash incinerator to wait in limbo watching another looming threat to our land draw closer,” said the letter the group presented to Marcia Collins, chief of DPW’s office of legislative affairs.
In his more plainspoken way, Councilman Ed Reisinger had the same message.
“They’re saying, ‘Hey when are you gonna make a decision?’ Don’t put it on the corner of the desk and say, ‘We’ll get back to you in a couple of months,’” said the 10th District councilman.
Asked for comment last week, DPW spokesman Jeffrey Raymond said “we may have a public response on this soon, but it’s not ready yet.”
UPDATE: Responding this evening via Twitter, the agency refused to make the commitment the group sought. (See below for all their Tweets.]
“We must take a holistic long-term view of the property and the water distribution system, and avoid negative consequence,” @BaltimoreDPW said. “We will develop a plan by Sept. 2021, and keep the Garden leaders informed during that process.”
DPW officials have said they are looking at possibly purchasing other land near the tank as an alternative pumping station site in order to spare the garden, including property owned by the city school system.
Will that decision-making process extend until 2021, as @BaltimoreDPW tweeted yesterday?
No, DPW’s chief of legislative affairs, Marcia Collins, told The Brew today (5/13/19), “The director has asked us to fast-track this.”
Asked if the decision could be made within weeks or months, Collins said “I don’t know.”
“Fantastic over there”
Made available to the community through the city’s Adopt-a-Lot program, the garden is located next to a century-old city water tank.
Because of anticipated declining demand from neighboring Anne Arundel County, a pumping station may be needed to keep the water circulating in the area fresh, DPW has said.
But the garden, created 10 years ago, has become a neighborhood mainstay.
In addition to serving as a place for residents to grow fresh vegetables and fruit, it hosts the Baltimore Compost Collective and is the home to a menagerie of chickens and ducks, as well as goats and beehives.
“What they’re doing over there is fantastic – the chickens, the goats, the compost project,” Reisinger said. “People come to it from all over the city.”
The garden also hosts educational programs for children and adults and seasonal events like the recent Easter Egg Hunt.
“I hope that your Saturday, April 20, 2019 event was successful,” Chow said at the close of his letter to the community, pointing out that DPW had repaired a leak and filled an excavation hole ahead of this year’s Easter event.
“To their credit, I will say, they were good about fixing that,” Sawtell said.
Terrell Askew and Filbert Street Garden supporters begin their countdown at about 26:15 during the April 8 Taxpayers’ Night. (CharmTV)
The group’s relations with Chow also have a less sunny side.
At last month’s Board of Estimates Taxpayers’ Night, garden supporters demanded that Chow commit to saving it – and gave him a minute to do so.
While Chow sat silently (the longtime format is for officials to listen to witnesses, but not speak), sign-waving residents faced him, counting down the time.
“One! Two! Three! . . .” they yelled, counting up to 60.
Sawtell said if Chow fails to commit to saving the garden before the next Taxpayers’ Night, the group might show up there and make another public plea.