The Quest vegetable and flower garden on State Street is good for the city of Schenectady for a lot of reasons. It turned a parcel that had long been the site of illicit sex, drug use and vandalism, and turned it into something beneficial.
The garden will provide healthy vegetables for underprivileged kids served by Quest, as well as for others in the neighborhood. And by having the kids tend the garden, Quest is teaching them not just how to grow food, but also instilling in them the value of hard work and a sense of pride in themselves and their community. That, in turn, might keep them from turning down the wrong path later in life.
But an apparent misunderstanding between Quest officials and the city over ownership of the property is threatening the future of the garden.
The city says it needs to keep the property available for future sale and development, so it can't offer Quest's garden a permanent home. Quest officials think otherwise.
While the Quest effort is noble and valuable, city leaders must put the interests of taxpayers first. If a sale can help taxpayers recoup some of what the city paid to demolish the burned-down building and facilitate getting the property back on the tax rolls as a business, then the city has to do that. The sale, combined with an adjacent property, could net the city $41,000 or more. It wouldn't be fair to the other taxpayers in the city not to pursue that approach.
But the solution doesn't have to be all or nothing. There's room for compromise.
The city to its credit has offered to allow Quest to continue to use the site for six months, which would allow the kids to complete their garden project. That's reasonable.
Quest founder/director Judy Atchinson, on the other hand, thinks the misunderstanding was the city's fault and that it should make up for that by allowing the garden to stay well into the future. She wants city officials to sign a long-term deal for use of the site, suggesting seven years. That's not reasonable.
A reasonable compromise would be that the city agrees to sign a series of short-term contracts with Quest each year to use the lot as a garden.
As long as there's no buyer by the start of each growing season, Quest can farm the parcel for that season only. Property sales often take a couple of months to complete anyway, so such an agreement isn't likely to kill a potential deal.
In the meantime, the city would benefit by having a garden on the vacant lot each summer, and Quest would benefit from the city's assurances that the property wouldn't be sold out from under them each year before the tomatoes got ripe.
And the arrangement doesn't have to end with Quest. The city also could offer similar agreements on its vacant properties, allowing them to be used for community gardens by neighborhood associations and local non-profits while they await sale. Schenectady would reap the same benefits as it does from the Quest garden, including getting kids more active in agriculture and invested in community projects. The gardens might even help make the properties more marketable.
Had there not been the original misunderstanding over ownership of the Quest parcel, it's likely there wouldn't be a garden there right now anyway. Since there is, it's in the interests of both sides work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.