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Vacant lots to mini urban farms - Approaching the owner

 
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I would love to see some of the vacant lots in our city converted to a mini urban farm and was looking for advice about how to approach the owner. I want to approach them with an offer of using the land to grow food and dividing the yield between the owner, the workers and local community rather than renting the land from them. The obvious fear that land owners have is that the garden will compromise their ability to sell the land or build a carpark or building on it later. So, I was considering creating a contract that basically says that the rights of the land remain with the owner, that we will only build garden beds on top of the land, that we will get off the land within X months notice and we will remove the gardens. The benefits to the owner are they get some organic produce, their land is enhanced in some way (potentially increasing their chances of selling it) and they get to feel good about themselves (with bragging rights) for doing something for the community and the environment with no effort nor risk to themselves.

So ... any suggestions or advice? Would this work? Any examples of this already working or examples of a contract?
 
master pollinator
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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In many cases, there is no reason to share the produce.

City government often compels owners to keep vacant lots free of garbage and noxious weeds. This costs money. By putting the land to use, you are saving money for the owners.

Some cities give large property tax reductions when land is put to a positive community oriented use. Development companies like good press. Give them that and solicit their help with initial costs. Everyone wins.
 
Jason Nicoll
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Those are some interesting points. I shall follow your advice and discover what penalties and taxes exist on vacant land plots in the city and then incorporate that information into the approach.

What do you think about a contract? Would it reduce objections and fears? Do you know of any examples where a contract was used?
 
Dale Hodgins
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There are thousands of existing gardens on borrowed land. Call some of the more established ones and ask if you can see theirs. Or call a city hall somewhere, where community gardens are encouraged. They may provide a sample contract. Lawyers and legal websites have many basic contract forms that they work from. This isn't a new thing and with a little searching, I expect that a suitable contract form will be found.

In some places, lots have little value. Where they are sold for under $1000, it might be better to buy. Cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and others in the rust belt, give long term tax relief on projects like yours.

I once spent a few days investigating dozens of lots in Niagara Falls New York. Prices ranged between $25 and $200. I didn't pursue my building scheme, because the market was flooded with houses under $25,000.
 
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Location: Sacramento, CA
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Dale, good advice but boy do you and I live on other planets, here in the great state of California, a city lot is cheap at $50k to $200k!


I think the biggest issue owners will have is LIABILITY, even over ease of selling. However, I think your contract/lease is a great idea, just add in some verbiage about liability and get renter's insurance which is pretty cheap.

Another thing is that you need to address property value, both of the lot itself and of the neighborhood. Gardens vary widely in attractiveness. Having a plan of how you will make the front appear attractive will probably help with the receptiveness of the landlords as well as assuage any fears they neighbors have.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I'm not near those rust belt lots now. A decent lot in Victoria BC costs around $500,000 or about $385,000 American. We have gardens on vacant lots. You must have an iron clad arrangement to vacate when the land is needed. I was once asked to participate in a protest, when the clock ran out on a community garden. I'm not that stupid.
 
pollinator
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YOur idea is really great! I would first gather together some like minded people at least five. And then approach the council, they should help you. You need a lawyer for the contract either you find someone who does it for free or the city council gives you advise. If you have the council or another organization as a backup owners will be much more likely to give you the land. I would include in the contract that you don't use poisons.
 
Jason Nicoll
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I wish there was a central repository that stored Permaculture assets like courses, presentations, images, designs, contracts etc. It would be so great to have a template of a contract that is discussed and crowd developed and could be downloaded and then customised or translated or whatever.

Permies is great for sharing ideas, but the Permaculture community needs more than forums. Imo it needs shared resources.
 
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Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Jason Nicoll wrote:I wish there was a central repository that stored Permaculture assets like courses, presentations, images, designs, contracts etc. It would be so great to have a template of a contract that is discussed and crowd developed and could be downloaded and then customised or translated or whatever.

Permies is great for sharing ideas, but the Permaculture community needs more than forums. Imo it needs shared resources.



That's a good idea! I suspect it would have to be "curated" by one or a few people, though, to make sure the list contains good quality, relevant material that is well organized. Is there someone who is willing to take on that role?
 
Jason Nicoll
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I'd volunteer my time to help, but I'm afraid my web skills are far from good enough to even know where to start on creating a repository for Permaculture based resources. Hopefully, someone is already creating that shared resource somewhere.
 
master pollinator
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http://www.changelabsolutions.org/sites/default/files/CommunityGardenToolkit_Final_(CLS_20120530)_20110207.pdf (copy address and paste; link doesn't work)

There are many resources for creating community gardens, on the web.
 
Jason Nicoll
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Tyler Ludens wrote:http://www.changelabsolutions.org/sites/default/files/CommunityGardenToolkit_Final_(CLS_20120530)_20110207.pdf (copy address and paste; link doesn't work)

There are many resources for creating community gardens, on the web.



That is amazing toolkit. I love the way it walks through the options of the agreement between the gardeners and the land owner. The other resources there look excellent too.
 
steward
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All of my fields for the past 7 years have been obtained with a nodding of heads... Not even something as formal as a handshake. I rented my first field, but once I discovered that land is a burden to it's owners I stopped renting fields. I just offered to take care of them in order to ease the burden on the property owner.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Do you pay the taxes, or just agree to keep the weeds down?
 
pollinator
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Jason Nicoll wrote:Those are some interesting points. I shall follow your advice and discover what penalties and taxes exist on vacant land plots in the city and then incorporate that information into the approach.

What do you think about a contract? Would it reduce objections and fears? Do you know of any examples where a contract was used?



Jason, did you follow up with this? Did you learn anything interesting? How did the project go? Hoping for the best!
 
Jason Nicoll
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Ah ... I approached the local government and managed to have a few meetings, but got frustrated by the slow pace and endless barriers. Once I have resolved a few other projects, I will attempt to follow up on this and push it further. If I get anywhere I shall post back here.
 
Shaz Jameson
pollinator
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How typical of bureaucracy, and how frustrating! Best of luck with your projects, do let us know if you pick it up again.
 
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