New Castle Mulls New Zone to Accommodate Garden at Millwood Swim Site

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New Castle officials are considering creation of a new zone for the 1.3-acre parcel that was once the site of the Millwood Swim Club to allow a group of residents to operate a community garden.

Town resident and former councilman Michael Wolfensohn, one of the community members pursuing the garden, said last week that there isn’t a specific zone in the town’s code that would make the facility a permissible use.

While a conventional garden would be allowable in a residential zone, the residents who are involved in the proposal are looking to hold events at the Sand Street site. A variety of seasonal produce would be grown at the garden.

Last year the residents also discussed the possibility of charging a nominal fee for “creative key holders,” local artists and writers who would have access to the area to work.

In order to accommodate the facility, the residents who are undertaking the initiative would have to pursue a special permit but that could cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and other fees for a project that is anticipated to generate only enough revenue to pay the taxes and maintain the property.

Wolfensohn mentioned that if the special permit choice would be pursued, they would have to appear before the municipality’s various boards, which could cost as much as $50,000 to $70,000.

“You’re looking at some very significant legal costs to get all of these things done, so much so that I think that it might be prohibitive for us to do it,” Wolfensohn said.

The town took title to the property last year and is looking to sell the parcel to the group so the land once again becomes privately owned and is restored to the tax rolls. The residents would have to negotiate a price with the town for the parcel.

Town Attorney Edward Phillips said creating a new zone that would be compatible with a residential district is a valid option. A public hearing would have to be scheduled if a new zone is sought.

“I think it’s going to be a matter of finding the right fit, the right tool for this,” he said.

Supervisor Robert Greenstein said he would be in favor of creating a new zone for the garden as long as there wouldn’t be unintended consequences such as having similar facilities pop up throughout town that would generate excessive noise or congestion.

The option of a special permit doesn’t appear feasible, he said.

“They have to jump through a million hoops to make that happen, which is silly,” Greenstein said.

Wolfensohn, who appeared before the town board last week with neighboring resident Jackie Meyers-Smith, said if it takes extra time to get the issues ironed out that is fine. At this point, it’s unlikely the project has a chance to get launched before next year.

“We’d rather take our time (and) get it done right,” Wolfensohn said. “So if it takes time to do that we understand that.”

The former Millwood Swim Club closed in 2009. Since then, the property has become overgrown with brush and there is old and deteriorating equipment at the site, which has created an eyesore for neighboring residents.

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