By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
The green thumbs had their rakes and hoes out in force Wednesday night.
An already lengthy Red Bank council meeting carried on about 45 minutes more as elected officials and proponents of a community garden clashed on the proposed location for the first of what the group hopes will to be up to four community-tended gardens throughout town.
Advocates want the start-up site at borough-owned property adjoining the public library site. But officials say it’s the last available piece of public land on the Navesink River, and don’t want to exclude people by turning it into an area of specific interest.
And so a back-and-forth that started in March continued Wednesday, with still no place to plant a seed decided upon.
A group of about eight residents of Red Bank and nearby towns pushed the council to allow a community garden at a plot at 90 West Front Street, an oyster-shell’s toss from Maple Cove, which is also borough-owned but considered unsuitable for a garden.
Despite the council’s objections about open public space and potential issues with water connections, proponents say the site is a prime starter spot.
Sarah Klepner, of Shrewsbury Avenue, said the group believes it has addressed all concerns the council had and still, after a couple of trips to the microphone during the meeting, couldn’t figure out why the governing body wouldn’t budge on the idea.
“We haven’t been told any substantial reason why we can’t be there,” she said.
One woman suggested there were political motives behind brickwalling the plan.
Taking the stance they’ve maintained since the garden idea’s inception, council members said that piece of land should be for the use of the general public, not a select group.
“That has already been decided,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said.
Councilwoman Sharon Lee said that she, too, is a gardener, but had serious concerns that the group’s focus was too narrow, and said it should take the suggestion of the council to find another location to start the garden.
The group has chosen about 20 sites for gardens, but maintains the best place for the first one is at the West Front location.
“We are willing to support any other location. We all want this to happen,” Lee said. “You’re showing no interest as a community group, and that really concerns me, that you don’t have the ability to do what you’re asked to do.”
At Klepner’s request, Menna said he’d put the proposal into a resolution to be voted on at the council’s next meeting.
Highlands resident Tony Sloan, a farm engineer who’s been assisting the group in getting the plan in action, read an extensive letter to the council pointing out the importance of the first garden and said Red Bank could be the “flagship of urban agriculture” in Monmouth County maybe even the state if it would take the steps the group has outlined.
“In light of what it takes to start a first garden, the only suitable response of any political body to the group of people wiling to take on such a task,” he read, “should be nothing less than worshipful appreciation.”