It seems like the door hasn’t closed on the possibility that the Wilton Community Gardens might be able to remain at Allen’s Meadow.
Monday afternoon, July 25, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice emailed participants in the town’s Community Garden program to say that town and state officials are talking about allowing the gardens to continue in their current location.
She also sent the email to local media.
“Following today’s discussions with CT [Department of Transportation], I am very pleased to share CT-DOT has advised they are open to discussions to allow gardening at the current location,” she wrote.
While she added that the discussion may extend over several months, well into the fall, town officials are hopeful the state will allow the gardens to remain throughout the discussions. Several residents with plots at the community gardens had expressed their frustrations that the Sept. 26 deadline for relocating their gardens was too early for some plants still to be harvested or not yet dormant for winter and movable.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting just one week ago (July 19), Vanderslice told the other members that the CT Department of Transportation — which leases the state-owned portion of Allen’s Meadow to Wilton — had informed the town that gardening was not permitted per the lease with the state. As a result, she said the town was searching for a new location outside of Allen’s Meadow to relocate the Community Gardens.
Since then many community gardeners (as well as other residents) have written letters to town officials and GMW, and spoken out on social media about their anger and frustration at the news.
Some individuals accused town officials of having an ulterior motive: that they wanted to get rid of the gardens so that a new turf field could be installed in its place. They pointed to the First Selectwoman’s June 24 Update to residents, which stated, “At this week’s June 21 meeting, the Board of Selectmen approved funding to evaluate town-owned fields at Allen’s Meadow for installation of a non-crumb rubber infill turf field with a commitment to recommend bonding for the new field at the next Annual Town Meeting. A Parks and Recreation Study Committee previously identified Allen’s Meadow as a priority location for a third turf field.”
In an email to GMW, Vanderslice denied that assertion.
“The speculation regarding alternative motives is just that, non-fact-based speculation. The Town has been very transparent about our investigation of the possibility of a turf field on town-owned property at Allen’s. The area currently houses fields #5 and #6. Obviously, there is sufficient area for a turf field. As I have said many times, my emails are public and subject to FOIA, as such Facebook is not the proper means to ask questions or submit a FOIA request. People who are interested in obtaining information should email me, as others did on this matter,” she wrote.
In contrast, Vanderslice said the town supported the gardeners. She told GMW that the town had increased the number of garden plots on both town- and state-owned land at Allen’s a few years ago, in response to community demand and to move people off a years-long waitlist.
In a letter sent Friday, July 22 to one of the community gardeners, Vanderslice wrote that there are 60 available plots in the gardens assigned to 46 individuals (some occupy two plots). A portion of the plots is on town-owned land.
In response to the public outcry, Vanderslice wrote that town officials were looking into how many plots in all could be accommodated if they tried to move those on state-owned land to the Wilton side.
The next day (July 23), she sent a letter to other community gardeners that said that the town had tried to include gardening in the renegotiated lease but that the state was “firm in their position.”
But Monday, after more conversation with CT-DOT, Vanderslice said that the state was now open to further discussions about allowing the gardens to stay at Allen’s. She told GMW, “I am very grateful CT DOT is open to discussing gardening. I am focused on the future and the necessary work to achieve our goals.”
Vanderslice asked residents who have reached out directly to CT-DOT personnel to refrain from contacting any state officials about the matter.
“From this point forward, please allow the Town’s attorney to be the one voice on behalf of the Town on this matter,” she wrote to the gardeners.
Vanderslice added that she will continue to update residents, including scheduling a discussion of the matter on the Monday, Aug. 2 agenda, although “I expect it will only be to inform the BOS and the public of this update.”
Individuals can sign up to receive notices when the agenda and the materials are posted online by visiting the town website and checking ‘Board of Selectmen’ under the ‘Meeting Agenda’ category.