A Point Breeze resident in the neighborhood’s Newbold section wants to turn the vacant lot behind her home into an herbal teaching garden and to preserve it as a slice of green space in a rapidly developing neighborhood. But like many in the city, Lindsay Duggan has found the process of securing vacant land is often lengthy and frustrating. Duggan is still not sure if, in her case, the process will be a fruitful one.
Duggan moved into her home near 17th and Reed Street three-and-a-half years ago and immediately began looking into purchasing the lot behind her house.
“When we moved in we realized that the space was not being utilized behind us, and it was immediately a problem,” she said. “I’m not only wanting to build the garden because that’s what I want to do, but the space is a trash dump.”
Duggan, her fiancé and their former roommate reached out to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) and expressed interest in purchasing the lot. As she tells it, shortly after that the lot went up for sale, but Duggan was told she had to wait until the auction to make an offer. The auction never happened. The for-sale sign came down, and the property was taken back off the market.
Between the three of them, Duggan, her fiancé and their former roommate have contacted the PRA to express interest four or five times.
“They say they’ll email you or call you and they never do,” Duggan said.
This past summer, she reached out to Councilman Kenyatta Johnson’s office, “after pushing again at the PRA and them giving me the run around,” and was put in touch with Steve Cobb, Esq., director of legislation and zoning at Johnson’s office.
“Not until I contacted Steve did stuff actually start happening,” Duggan said. “Still not a whole lot’s happening. They’re still not selling it to me.”
The property Duggan has her eye on is owned by the city. In some instances PRA sells vacant property on behalf of the city, but according to the Department of Public Property’s website, in other cases “properties may be made available… at fair market value via the Vacant Property Review Committee.”
Duggan wants to buy this particular property at a discounted, side-yard rate, but the property has several expressions of interest from developers willing to pay full market value. Cobb said some Point Breeze properties have received as many as 23 expressions of interest.
“It might be a heavy lift,” Cobb said. “But that said, if she could get a petition and meet with a local group and get support it’d be something that the councilman would be happy to support.”
That’s exactly what Duggan has done. She has walked door to door asking neighbors to support the idea, launched an online petition and secured a letter of support from the Newbold Neighbors Association (NNA).
“Recently our neighborhood has become a hotspot for new and rehabbed home development,” NNA President Joe Schuma wrote in the letter of support. “While we generally support these types of development, this situation is of special interest to us because our neighborhood is severely lacking in green space, which we consider an essential aspect for healthy and safe neighbors.”
While the lot would be privately owned by Duggan and her fiance, the duo have plans to turn it into a teaching garden, where Duggan envisions hosting workshops where neighbors might bring their own buckets and she would provide them with dirt and a tomato seedling. Duggan has also been in touch with Child’s Elementary School about designing a spring gardening course.
Once Duggan has gathered enough support, Cobb said, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson will likely send a letter of support to the Vacant Property Review Committee.
“I want to think that there’s enough talking now that maybe they’ll change their minds and sell it to me,” Duggan said. “I have a ton of neighborhood support.”
Still she has her apprehensions. “With what’s going on in the city… people aren’t going to want to see a garden and the city not getting market value when they could have. My thing is that’s all true and all but my thing is – three years. They could have gotten money from me three years ago.”