Batavia aldermen talked Tuesday about uprooting the Batavia Community Garden in an attempt to get the property back on the tax rolls and encourage its owner to develop the land.
The topic surfaced as aldermen discussed whether to grant a four-year extension on an easement for the 1-acre site at Water and Main streets. The idea also relates to the proposed development of a new downtown Walgreens store.
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"I don't want the community garden to die, but I would like to try to find some other piece of property now," said Alderman Garran Sparks, explaining why he would vote against granting the easement.
Batavia Enterprises Inc. is a member of the partnership that owns the land where the garden plots are now, and where a house previously sat until 2003. In 2010 it granted the city an easement over it for the garden, so that it and the volunteers are covered by the city's liability insurance. Without insurance, the owners wouldn't allow the garden.
Batavia Enterprises is also proposing to build the new, replacement Walgreens a few blocks away, and last week the city council informally agreed to grant $1.14 million in tax incentives to get that done.
Sparks said he has fielded criticism for that, and that while looking up tax records on Batavia Enterprises' downtown holdings he also looked up the tax record for the garden site. He was surprised to learn it was redesignated as farmland in 2012. Farmland is assessed by a different method. The type of crop grown and the productivity of the soil are part of the calculation.
With the change, the site went from generating almost $5,000 a year in property taxes to $0 this year.
Sparks said there may be a piece of tax-exempt property, owned by the city or the Batavia Park District, that could be used for a community garden. Alderman Susan Stark also suggested that perhaps Batavia MainStreet could supply the insurance. The group won a lieutenant governor's award in 2012 for its work with the garden.
Alderman Jamie Saam, a MainStreet director, said if the garden moves out of the downtown, MainStreet would not be involved anymore. Saam said the garden wants a permanent site, and a city memo says the group wants more space so it can offer plots to residents.
Stark and Lucy Thelin Atac pointed out that volunteers have put a lot of work in on the site, including moving earth, improving the structure and nutrients of the soil, and installing raised beds. One of Atac's sisters is a co-founder of the garden.
Stark said that even if the garden went away, the owners could grow corn or other crops and retain the agricultural designation.
"So do we then shoot ourselves in the foot by creating a lot of ill will with people?" Stark asked. Alderman Marin Callahan said that perhaps the value of the produce donated should be weighed against the property tax loss, but he also agreed with Sparks.
Alderman Dan Chanzit said the garden brings people downtown, one of the council's longtime goals. "We have bigger fish to fry" as far as getting properties developed to increase taxes, he said.
Callahan suggested the city ask the owners to return the land's designation to residential.
The city administrator was directed to do more research.
The current easement expires Dec. 31.