|By Chris Maza|
EAST LONGMEADOW The Board of Selectmen recently approved the use of land at the Brown Farm for the purpose of creating a community garden and Friends of the Brown Farm founder Heather Cunningham is looking to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.
"I think this is a great opportunity to grow with the town and I am hoping that people will be as excited about this as I am," she said. "From the feedback I have received, they will be."
Before any shovels can get in the dirt, the final touches of the plan must be put in place. The goal, Cunningham said, is to have everything ready for planting season and coordinate with the East Longmeadow Garden Club's annual plant sale.
"We still have to work out the plans with the Planning Board and we have been working hard with the Selectmen to get this moving along," she said, adding that preliminary work such as measurements have already been done.
Cunningham explained that her plan involves the plowing and portioning of an area of the property to be used by residents for planting, as well as a separate area comprised of raised beds, which she said would be esthetically pleasing while offering an option for handicapped users and those who would have difficulty gardening in a traditional bed.
"We're still working on a sign-up procedure," she said, explaining that she first hopes to re-establish the organizational group that got the project in motion. "Over the last six months, we went from having a 13 member board to having about half that many. Some people got frustrated with what seemed to be a long process, so we need more people to step up."
Cunningham said while she understood why some may have been frustrated, she felt the process she has gone through with the Board of Selectmen has been relatively quick.
"Six months is not so long to get through, especially when you consider some of the other projects that people have been working on for a lot longer," she said. "With the process we have gone through with the Board of Selectmen, I think we have accomplished a lot. Everything has been pretty smooth from the beginning."
The Board of Selectmen under Chair Paul Federici initially took the position that the town should determine what should happen with the property at a Town Meeting, however, Town Counsel James Donohue explained to the board that they have the authority to make certain decisions regarding the land.
Cunningham said it was her belief that the board's initial desire to involve the town in the decision-making process stemmed from recent events that may have shaken residents' faith in the government, namely former Selectman Enrico "Jack" Villamaino's alleged involvement in a voter fraud scheme.
"I think they were apprehensive because they wanted to make sure they had the support of the town, given everything that's happened," she said. "Once the town attorney assured them that they have the right and the power to lead, I think they felt better about their decision."
The community gardens would be simply the first step in a much larger plan for the Brown Farm to be used for passive and active recreation. One of he major hurdles still facing Cunningham and the Friends of the Brown Farm revolve around the buildings, for which funds were approved for their demolition.
Cunningham has stressed that repairing and renovating the buildings would better serve the town.
"[Planning Board and Community Preservation Committee Chair] George Kingston has told me that [Community Preservation Act] funds can't be used for the buildings, so we are probably looking at state funds," she said.
The Board of Selectmen also received a letter from Mountain View Stables offering to purchase the buildings.
"I hope the town takes a conservative view on that," she said. "The fact that someone else is willing to buy the buildings suggests to me that they might be worth more than some think they are."
Those interested in participating in the planning process can contact Cunningham via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 224-1577 or 218-2427, or Town Administrator Nick Breault at email@example.com or 525-5400 ext. 1100.
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