For six years now, Bridget Frischer has been gardening a vacant lot at Pennsylvania Avenue and Winnebago Street. She tends sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, herbs. She also has chickens. "We grow a lot of weird stuff," she acknowledges. A few years back, she took over the adjacent lot and and planted fruit trees.
The operation has thrived — to the point that it's gotten a name ("One for the Crow Garden & Plant Space") and a mission (helping the area's needy). Every Saturday, Frischer says, the young-adult group at Manchester United Methodist Church comes to pick the produce. What isn't sold to parishioners on Sundays goes to Kingdom House
, the nonprofit assisting economically disadvantaged kids and adults.
But this Tuesday night, Frischer got some alarming information. The Gravois Park Neighborhood Association was seeking to buy the land from the city's Land Reutilization Authority, or LRA, and, she presumed, kick out One for the Crow.
No one with the neighborhood association had said a thing to her about the plan. And that's even though the LRA was set to vote on the land sale the very next day.
Dale Sweet, the secretary of the neighborhood association, did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Records show that the neighborhood association was hoping to buy Frischer's lot, along with five other parcels of LRA land officially classified as "vacant." The purchase price? Just $4,500.
After getting the news Tuesday, Frischer mobilized as quickly as she could, soliciting letters from a dozen or so supporters attesting to the garden's good works. She also showed up to the Wednesday morning meeting, undercutting the association's claims that it had been maintaining the properties and deserved their ownership.
She was successful: The LRA rejected the association's request. It did not explain its reasoning, acting swiftly after hearing testimony from both Frischer and an association representative.
Behind the scenes, Frischer wasn't the only one to oppose the group. Liz Gerard wrote the LRA to highlight the neighborhood association's track record with another property in the area: the Jefferson Heritage Bank property just off Cherokee Street.
The neighborhood association acquired the site from the LRA in 2005, with a written agreement to "repair, fence and landscape [it] for [a] community center and retail facility." It never did; to this day, it's an eyesore in the midst of Cherokee's bustle. And some neighbors believe its neglected condition has led to crime on the street. (Those concerns were aired in detail in a 2017 RFT cover story
Gerard, who previously lived adjacent to the site, wrote that she shared those concerns.
"Criminals were drawn to area due to improper lighting, and car break-ins were common," Gerard wrote. "My car was broken in to three times in one year. The Gravois Park Neighborhood Association also did little to develop or maintain the lot. Last fall, my former roommate was shot near the property while walking his dog
. As a young woman, I don’t think I need to explain why I felt unsafe walking home at night.
"When I decided to buy a home, I chose to move to Benton Park largely due to safety concerns. I would love to see meaningful investment in Gravois Park and Benton Park West. Unfortunately, I don’t trust the Gravois Park Neighborhood Association to follow through with their plans."
Ironically, Frischer says she only began gardening on the Pennsylvania Avenue lot because of the Gravois Park group. It had originally obtained a garden lease for the site through the LRA, and encouraged neighbors to get involved — which she did. Within months, she says, others abandoned the project, leaving her to soldier on.
She says she never had a problem with the neighborhood association, but also hasn't had any contact with them since its past president, Rita Ford, passed away a few months ago.
Since then, Frischer says she learned that the neighborhood association had let its lease on the property expire. So after the LRA meeting yesterday, she took a sensible step to secure One for the Crow's future: She walked across the hallway and got a garden lease of her own.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story wrongly described Dale Sweet as the president of the neighborhood association. He is, in fact, the secretary. We regret the error.
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