By DIVYA KUMAR
Times Staff Writer
The chickens still strutted in their coop hours before the community garden at 725 Second St. N would be required to vacate.
Lyn Van Voorst, who had run the garden for three and a half years since she approached Debra Disch, the property owner, with the idea of transforming the unused plot, said she still wasn’t sure where the chickens would go. She received a notice a couple weeks ago she had to vacate the property by Tuesday.
Van Voorst said when she first arranged to use the land, , Disch orally committed to selling it to her.
"My fault, stupid me, was that I didn’t get it in writing," she said. "I was raised that if I say something, I stick to it."
But Disch, who owns the lot and the apartment complex across from it and is selling both, said they never had an agreement and that she had told Van Voorst the lot came packaged with the apartment complex. But she wasn’t using the lot and Van Voorst could use it for free.
"I said awesome, I’m not using it, go right ahead," Disch said. "I have paid taxes on it. I have never seen or asked for one cent."
The deal has not been closed, but Ben Skinner of Marcus and Millichap, who is brokering the sale, said the likely buyer is an apartment developer who has been successful in rehabilitating properties into condos.
"His plan is to clean it up and have better curb appeal," Skinner said.
Skinner said the buyer had not announced any plans of doing anything to the property that the community garden is on, but Van Voorst said she’d heard rumors a parking lot may take the space of the garden. She posted a sign outside the garden asking people for their help in saving the garden and started a petition and collected more than 900 signatures to oppose a future parking lot.
Van Voorst said she has called the mayor’s office to ask if there is land the garden can move to. They plan to move the chickens from the coop, but walk away from the crops that grew there Tuesday.
With its 18 plots of sunflowers and radishes, beets and cotton, tomatoes and lavender — sometimes given to Black Crow Coffee across the street — the Old Northeast Community Garden had come to be a place for those in the neighborhood to stop and chat or sit in the chairs in the lighted porch Van Voorst set up for evenings. Each gardener paid an annual fee of about $55 to maintain the upkeep of the garden, and Van Voorst said she’d invested about $7,000 in the plot.
Ed Cigoi, who built the boxes surrounding each plot, said the garden became a cornerstone of the community.
"It was an empty field," he said. "It was full of cinder blocks and we created something special there, I think."
Robin Cook, who lived next to the plot for the last 13 years, said she was sad to see the garden have to go.
"It’s just taken a lot that was overgrown with weeds and trash and they’ve made it into something beautiful," she said. "We’ve gone through development, but we haven’t changed the aesthetic of the Old Northeast. The community garden is one thing that makes us special. Progress is good, but not always. Sometimes we have to maintain part of that history."
Disch said the angst could have been avoided.
"You don’t know what (the new owners) are going to do with it," she said. "Maybe they could have made arrangements with her before she went on a tirade, who knows. The building and the lot go together. She’s calling it her property. It is not."
Van Voorst said she has repeatedly asked for the name of the buyer but hasn’t been told.
The sale is expected to be finalized in the next couple weeks, Skinner said.
Contact Divya Kumar at [email protected] Follow @divyadivyadivya.