LEWISTON — Neighborhood gardens, similar to those in the downtown’s popular Lots to Gardens program, could be coming to every neighborhood in the city.
City councilors are scheduled to make a final decision on community gardening rules at their March 6 meeting. They reviewed a plan this week to allow the gardens around the city and gave it preliminary approval.
The change would legalize a community garden at the corner of Pine and Howe streets, which was inadvertently built where it was not allowed.
“We’ve had people inquire about putting a garden in their neighborhood and we had to say no,” City Planner David Hediger said. “We only allow them in certain zones, but that brought up the entire discussion about where the gardens were allowed and where they’re not. That’s how we discovered this one.”
The city allows community gardens in four downtown zoning districts: Riverfront, Downtown Residential, Centreville and Mill. The Pine and Howe streets intersection is in the city’s Community Business Zone.
“This is not necessarily a bad use of a vacant lot, so should we really limit them to these four districts?” Hediger said. “It’s been a more common request, especially over the last few years.”
St. Mary’s Nutrition Center, a program run by St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, created the Lots to Gardens program in 1999. It encourages neighbors to adopt vacant lots and turn them into community vegetable gardens. The program has helped build 15 gardens and green spaces in four neighborhoods in Lewiston.
“It certainly is a good step in making the community more sustainable,” Hediger said. “It’s a great use of vacant lots, whether they are city-owned or not, so let’s not prohibit them, but we can put in some performance standards.”
The changes would allow community gardens in all but one city zone. The Resource Conservation District would not be able to host community gardens. Those lots are set aside for green space and include Thorncrag Nature Sanctuary, Garcelon Bog and lots along the Androscoggin River.
The city’s zoning allows residents to develop vacant lots as community gardens with owners’ permission and a $32 permit from the city. New rules would let neighbors plant gardens of up to 20,000 square feet. It also would let them leave the beds for the winter, by covering them with compost or planting soil-enhancing cover crops.
“As long as the neighbors are a good steward of the community land, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Hediger said. “But it gives us some teeth if there are issues.”