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Garden Plan Has Tough Row to Hoe

Westporters chimed in with their hopes and suggestions for the West Parish Meeting House preservation plan at a public hearing last night. Landscape architect Elena Pascarella jotted down their thoughts to review later, even recording those she didn't think were practical.

Chief among the speculative proposals is a suggestion by the Green Village Initiative (GVI) to use the preserve to grow produce for area food programs. GVI would manage the cultivation and, as a volunteer organization, help maintain the property.

"It's a lot of work. You aren't talking about going to Home Deport and getting some Round-Up when the weeds come in," said Pascarella. To avoid risking damage to anything under the soil and to maintain the historic integrity of the property, all tools used in a gardening project would have to be era appropriate. The Historic District Commission (HDC) wants to focus on the earliest years of the property, prior to the parish house's razing by British troops in the 1779.

Gareth Lindsey-Noble, representing the GVI, said their plans take the sensitive nature of the preserve into account. All gardening would be done organically and by hand. The most advanced piece of machinery they would consider using is a gas-powered rototiller drawn by hand. Plantings would go right up to the boundary of what the design team determines to be the footprint of the meeting house.

Therein lies another problem for the GVI plan: Nobody knows exactly where the foundation of the original meeting house is. As a result, the footprint needs to be larger than the presumed area of the foundation. Misplacing the footprint or making it too small could lead to accidental. HDC Vice-Chair Betsy Wacker said, "You only get one chance of getting it right with archeology."

There were also questions of liability. "People on public property maintaining a garden? I'd have to review how that works," said Pascarella.

Lillian Krause, a neighbor to the West Parish Meeting House Property since 1972, said farming doesn't work there. She knows because she has seen people try it. The land requires heavier work than can be done by hand. "We've been that route before. 'Community gardens' thinking is not something that needs to happen here. Putting additional top soil on what is there would be a mistake," she said. She would prefer the preservation plan keep the property as park-like as possible. "There used to be an old table that a number of artists used to go and sit at. It is such a lovely spot," she said.

The preservation design team showed some interest in the Greens Farms Association (GFA) plans, which they said largely mirrored their own. They were particularly interested in getting their hands on a trove of historical research the members have compiled over the years.

"I told them to get together everything except the 20th and 21st century stuff," said GFA President Art Schoeller. He said the information from those later time periods is largely rumor and not particularly relevant to what is being done with the preserve now.

Pascarella will take the suggestions from the public hearing and begin to piece together a preservation plan to present at a future meeting. "I think a number of the concerns had already been brought up in earlier meetings with the different departments. A lot of people seem to be on the same page," she said

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