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Community Garden Grows Animosity

Verbal sparring broke out once again at a council meeting between Cindy Burnham and Red Bank's council members over the community garden.

If the purpose of a community garden is to unify neighborhoods, bring people together to work toward a common goal, then the Red Bank Community Garden has already failed, well before a single seed has even been planted.

Once again, discussion at a borough council meeting concerning Red Bank’s proposed garden devolved into an argumentative, he-said, she-said confrontation between members of the council and Fair Haven resident Cindy Burnham in a scene that’s played out numerous times within the past year or so.

Burnham has spearheaded the community gardening effort since its beginnings, helping form an early gardening committee with the help of the borough’s Environmental Commission. But as the process has progressed and as the garden organization and development has been turned over to the borough, her role has been marginalized.

Burnham believes the borough is trying to muscle her out of the initiative she started. The borough believes Burnham is actively trying to sabotage the community garden. And so it goes.

The most recent in a slew of conflicts stems from the borough’s decision to create a Red Bank Community Garden Ad Hoc Committee to develop and oversee the creation and maintenance of a community garden on Marion Street. The move ruffled the feathers of Burnham, who believes the borough has stolen her thunder by replacing a committee that already existed, one she helped create.

The borough contends that the official committee is necessary since the garden is located on borough-owned property. The gardeners were given the option of creating their own 501-3c or latching on to another to help manage liabilities, or hand the garden over to the Red Bank Parks and Recreation Committee.

Begrudgingly, it appears, the garden was handed over to the borough.

“We were ready to plot and it was this council that stopped us,” Burnham said, ending her address to the council by saying her “hope is that now the borough has control we can work together in a civil manner and not use the garden as a political football.”

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickles rebutted Burnham’s claims that the garden was ready to go. For one, he said, Burnham personally went door to door on Marion Street to tell residents to oppose locating a garden there. Burnham, from the audience, did not deny the charge but said it stemmed from her efforts to have the garden placed at 94 W. Front Street on a highly-visible plot of land adjacent to the Red Bank Public Library.

It wasn’t until the towns started seeing fliers pop up, he said, that it was known if the then-garden committee was interested in moving forward. The borough stepped in, with the guidance of board solicitor Daniel O’Hern, to take control of the garden before any planting was done.

“I don’t think you’ve appreciated the fact that this garden is going on borough property,” Councilwoman Kathy Horgan said. “It’s not your property, there are things we have to do before we can move forward. You’ve put the cart before the horse.”

The council also rebutted claims made by Burnham that nearby community gardens, like the one in Shrewsbury, which was approved by council there, installed and funded with Green Acres money, and planted in just a few months, aren't run by their respective towns. 

Horgan said she believed Burnham has made the community garden the “Cindy Burnham project.” Burnham, she said, has disagreed with every decision the new committee has come up with. Burnham defended her position, however, saying she’s kept up the pressure for those living in Red Bank.

“I’m not even going to use it,” she said. “It’s for the residents.”

With the borough and its new committee moving swiftly ahead with the Red Bank Community Garden, Burnham's ongoing involvement in the project likely depends on her willingness to compromise and see that the garden grows more than frustration and ill-feelings.

Nancy Adams September 28, 2012 at 03:03 PM
The RiverCenter budget is available any time anyone wants to see it; it was also posted by the Borough when it was up for annual approval in March, but I fail to see how RiverCenter or our budget has anything to do with this topic. If you do look at our budget, you will see that we spend over $20,000 on horticulture (all those beautiful flowers you see throughout the downtown on sidewalks and light posts.) This year, we spent $10,000 on repairs to the benches that furnish your sidewalks and replacements for many others that were damaged or hit by snowplows or delivery trucks. If you look further in the budget, you'll see that we spend $52,000 on the holiday decorations that brighten up your downtown through the holidays.
Nancy Adams September 28, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Note that since RiverCenter is an independent non-profit funded solely by the businesses, the residents of Red Bank spend no dollars on these things that beautify a large portion of their hometown. And we do more: Guinness Oyster Festival, Food & Wine Walks, International Food Festival, Holiday Horse & Carriages, Dine Downtown, Girls Night Out, and more. I could go on. Please call our office if you'd like to discuss the RiverCenter budget & the large amount of work we do that benefits the Borough & increases property values for its residents. 732-842-4244,or go to our website that is being renamed through our new branding campaign launching over the next several weeks ($40,000), acoollittletown.com. We hope you'll thank the businesses by supporting them.
Edward Van Embden September 28, 2012 at 03:29 PM
We post a copy of RiverCenter's budget here annually.
Andres Simonson September 28, 2012 at 05:49 PM
The shame, of course, is that we don’t have a Community Garden right now, but rater a Calamity Garden. For this, there’s plenty of blame to go around – Council needs to take a long hard look in the mirror, and although I’m always thankful for Cindy fighting the fight, I think she is rousing too much rabble at this point. In the interest of community, let’s just make sure we’re ready for Spring planting at the Marion Street site. Where we shouldn't capitulate though, is the lot next to the library. This lot is on the NJDEP Recreation and Open Space Inventory, and by just about any metric, is the ideal community garden site. I've still not heard a convincing argument from the Council about their resistance, and that is not just sour grapes speaking. It’s like the rights of a couple Canada Geese outweigh the will of their constituents. Not what I consider a representative form of government.
Cindy Burnham September 29, 2012 at 11:42 AM
Andres, I just had to call Councilwoman Horgan on her lies. Now that I have, I am more than ever determinded to make this garden a success. The RB Community Garden Committee, was ready to plant the first week of Aug, until the council shut us down. Now, you can be sure that this garden will be ready to grow by early next spring! Residents will recieve notices about the garden in the mail and you will be able to download the garden application from the RB website and send in your completed app with your check of $25, to the Borough . It will still be first come first serve to ALL RB RESIDENTS, so keep your eyes open around early March of 2013.

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