Land bank invites garden clubs to turn empty lots into green space

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Land bank invites garden clubs to turn empty lots into green space

February 26, 2014 [Julie Washington,]

The Cuyahoga Land Bank wants to see vacant lots bloom as community gardens, urban farms, pocket parks or orchards.

The land bank’s side yard program encourages homeowners who live next to an empty lot, or garden clubs, to apply to buy or lease land, said Lilah Zautner, manager of  special projects and land reuse with the Cuyahoga Land Bank. The land bank works to acquire dilapidated homes and prepare them for rehabilitation, sale, demolition or reuse as gardens or green space.

The side yard program has been around for two years, but Zautner is reaching out to garden clubs to publicize the opportunity to start new gardens. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest,” she said. “We hope to see (lots) turned into more than just grass.”

Most city lots in Cleveland are about 4,000 square feet. When homes are demolished, the debris is taken away and a layer of top soil is laid down, although the usual soil amendments will be needed for growing vegetables. “It’s prepped for whatever use comes after,” she said.

Gardening groups can ask the land bank to transfer an empty plot to the city where the lot is located so that the group can lease it through their home city, Zautner said. This allows suburbs to have a say in what happens to the lots.

Leases usually cost from $1 to $100 a year and last for one year or five years. This approach allows block clubs or garden clubs to try out a community garden without taking on the responsibilities of land ownership, such as taxes, she said.

Water hook-ups are removed when homes are demolished. In Cleveland, garden groups can hire a plumber to have a water line and meter installed, but that can cost $1,500 and up, she said.

A cheaper way to go is to get a city water permit to use a nearby fire hydrant. In the city of Cleveland, approved gardens can buy a water permit for the growing season for about $100 for a garden of less than two acres, and $150 for a larger plot.

Zautner encourages gardeners and community groups who want to use these lots to contact her so that she can determine the best way to proceed. She can let garden leaders know which lots are still in the land bank’s inventory, and the location of buildings slated to be razed soon. The land bank currently is managing more than 600 lots.

Contact Zautner at 216-698-4696, or at [email protected].