LOGAN SQUARE — Neighbors expecting to plant flowers Saturday afternoon at the Corner Farm’s “work day” instead spent the day frantically dismantling flower beds.
Longtime property owner Al Jakich stopped by the Corner Farm’s event Saturday to deliver the news: He is moving forward with his plans to redevelop the land, and the community garden has to be gone in a week, garden organizer Jill Johnson said. Neighbors ditched their planting and composting plans and got to work removing all traces of the garden.
“So many people who were just expecting to eat cookies and listen to music still picked up tools. We had kids hauling lumber,” she said.
Jakich is forging ahead with his plans to sell the corner lot to a condo developer and move out of state, Johnson said, marking the end of the Corner Farm’s 13-year run at Altgeld and Sawyer avenues. Jakich has owned the land for four decades and allowed Corner Farm to use it for free.
Attempts to reach Jakich were unsuccessful Monday, but earlier this month he told Block Club that at 72, he’s ready to unload the property and move on with his life. The developer offered Jakich about $900,000 to build a six-unit condo complex on the land.
Jakich gave the Corner Farm crew 30 days to meet the developer’s price. Johnson and the other volunteers searched for a major donor or investor to help them buy the land. They received an outpouring of support from neighbors, but they weren’t able to find a benefactor who could provide the cash to buy the property.
Jakich told Johnson’s group they had to clear the space about a week earlier than planned. Johnson said Jakich is feeling increased urgency because of an alderman-backed plan to change the site’s underlying zoning.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who represents the area where the garden is located, wants to downzone the property so it’s consistent with other properties on the block.
The downzoning measure was introduced Tuesday. Waguespack’s chief of staff Paul Sajovec didn’t say why the alderman is introducing the measure now, but downzoning is a tool commonly used by alderman to exert some say in what gets built on available properties.
If approved, the zoning change would impact Jakich’s redevelopment plans. Jakich previously said he plans to fight any attempt at rezoning in court.
“I thought we had a few more days. He said it was in preparation to fight the downzoning,” Johnson said. “The lawyer said he needed to get the garden off the land and build a wire fence. He was like, ‘I need you off [the land] yesterday.'”
Johnson said they’re resigned to their fate; the gardeners put up signs that say “We Are Moving” and “Thank You For Your Years Of Support” and plan to finish what’s left of the move-out Saturday. Now the group is focused on finding a new location in Logan Square, perhaps through a partnership with a local school, church or another type of community organization.
“Hopefully we can create something even better,” Johnson said. “We’re just really grateful to [Jakich] for 13 years of magic, and we’re grateful to him for giving us a chance to try and match it.”
Since news broke that the garden was in danger of being pushed out, the Corner Farm group has been inundated with emails from neighbors looking to help, Johnson said. The group has also raised more than $8,000 in donations.
The money raised will go toward building a replacement community garden whenever the group finds a new location. Johnson said they’re hoping to bring in more money in the coming weeks to offset the high cost of lumber, but the donations that have come in so far will go a long way in helping them rebuild.
“I feel like this whole process has deepened our community connections more than ever,” she said.
Johnson and her group don’t have a lot lined up yet, but they’re in talks with community leaders, which they hope will lead to a new location soon. This time around, they’re focused on finding a community partner, Johnson said.
In keeping with the gardeners’ mission of serving the community, they are also taking care not to waste any of the plants meant for the lot at Algeld and Sawyer avenues. Johnson said the group has already donated 80 onion plants to a South Side farm and hopes to donate some of its garden beds to its longtime community partner Christopher House, the school across the street.
“One thing we’ve really realized is the community we built is the No. 1 most important thing of all and everything else is in service of that,” she said.
To donate to the Corner Farm, go here.
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