Sumner community garden will continue with some equipment, no chickens

City Council votes 5-2 on land-use agreement in time for growing season

Staff writerMarch 17, 2014 

Applause erupted in the council chambers at Sumner City Hall on Monday night, after the City Council approved a community garden land-use agreement just in time for this year’s growing season.

Gardeners can now continue to cultivate city-owned cemetery property that they have used for more than seven years. 

The council voted 5-2 to approve the agreement, which allows the community garden to continue so long as gardeners abide by specific guidelines and pay for their own insurance policy.

The action comes after city staff raised several concerns earlier this year related to liability and appearance of the property.

The gardeners say they immediately worked to address the issues, and many council members acknowledged their efforts during Monday’s meeting. 

Council members Cindi Hochstatter and Kathy Hayden opposed the agreement, while the rest of the council favored it as a workable compromise.

Under the new rules, gardeners won one battle and lost another.

Two key hot-button issues included whether to allow chickens on the property and what type of equipment could be used to maintain the land.  

After much discussion, the council chose to allow use of so-called “walk-behind” equipment. The intent was to avoid use of “heavy machinery” such as tractors while permitting necessary tools, specifically rototillers, mowers and weed-eaters.

Leading up to the decision, both the gardeners and city staff acknowledged that the garden wouldn’t be properly maintained without rototillers and other comparable equipment. 

But testimony from gardeners in favor of keeping chickens on the property didn’t sway the council members.  

The potential risk of illness led them to take a conservative approach and prohibit any poultry or livestock from the property. 

Still, gardener Nancy Retynski said only seven people were members of the independent chicken co-op, and the coops are locked and off limits to everyone else.

“The risk is only limited to the members of the co-op,” she said during public comment. “We’re not going to sue each other.”

City Administrator John Galle told The News Tribune on Monday night that, if the gardeners can find an insurance provider willing to cover the chicken co-op, they could petition the City Council to reconsider the issue.

Galle said that while no agreement can completely eliminate risk, he thought that the new approach thoughtfully mitigates the city’s liability.

“I think our job is to manage risk,” he said. “We take on risk every day when people drive on our roads and walk on our sidewalks.” 

Mayor Dave Enslow, who was consistently reluctant to spend more city time working on the garden, appeared relieved that the city reached a compromise and encouraged applause from those in attendance after the vote.

“It’s been quite a process,” Enslow said.

Councilman Curt Brown wished the gardeners luck as they move forward.

“I know you can git ’er done,” he quipped.  

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682
Follow Kari on Twitter: @KariPlog

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