PSE&G Terminates License Agreement for Community Garden
Madison 'outcry' causes cancelation of plan for Brooklake Road.
PSE&G alerted Mayor Nelson Vaughan and representatives from the Chatham Borough Community Garden Committee on Thursday that the energy company has decided to terminate the licensing agreement for a community garden on Brooklake Road.
The e-mail from Richard Franklin, manager of Corporate Properties at PSE&G, said, "based on the public outcry from residents of Madison, we felt that canceling the license was the best posible solution."
"I'm terribly disappointed PSE&G would do this," Vaughan said.
PSE&G agreed earlier this year to allow more plots for the community garden on the land north of Main Street, across the street from where the current garden stands on Division Street.
The 40 plots in the existing garden each measure 10 feet x 10 feet. But community garden plots are typically 10 x 20, and garden officials wanted to incorporate those larger plots into the PSE&G area across the street so the garden could expand. The location would have been right next to where the Chatham Jaycees sell their Christmas trees.
There has been a long waiting list for the 40 new plots for months, garden committee members said in August.
Madison residents have expressed their concerns about traffic and safety around the proposed garden, especially since the driveway to the garden would be built over a Transcontinental (Transco) gas pipeline (the existing garden's driveway is also built over a Transco pipe). A petition with more than 95 signatures protesting the expansion was presented to the Madison Borough Council in August.
Madison Borough Administrator Raymond Codey sent a letter via fax to Vaughan on Aug. 23, in which he raised questions about safety and quality of life proposed by Madison residents adjacent to the gardens.
"The outcry [from Madison residents] exceeded anything anybody expected based on reality," said former Chatham Borough Mayor Richard Plambeck, who currently serves on the Community Garden Committee.
"I heard too many things about how dangerous it would be, which it's not; how noisy it would be, which it's not; and how dirty and dusty it would be, which it's not."
After receiving the letter, Vaughan asked Chatham Borough Chief of Police Philip J. Crosson Jr., Borough Administrator Robert Falzarano, Borough Engineer Vincent J. DeNave, Borough Planning Board Attorney Anne Marie Rizzuto and Borough Administrative Assistant Janice Picoloto to review the concerns Codey voiced. Part of the letter reads:
...I have consulted with the borough engineer, who has contacted both Transco and Texas Eastern regarding their requirements and concerns for the pipelines ... They have given their full approval and expressed no concerns.
Further, our borough engineer has consulted with your engineer regarding any safety concerns and addressed all. Our engineer will continue to answer any questioned posed by your engineer.
PSE&G, who own the Right of Way and the electrical transmission towers, obviously have no concerns as they allowed the pilot garden on the south side of Route 124 and they have signed a lease to the borough for both gardens.
...I have consulted the Borough Police Department Traffic Safety officer and requested a review of the traffic dangers, and the response is that there is the same or (due to clear views on either side) even a lower level of traffic hazard as on any other driveway on Brooklake Road.
I have heard from cmmercial garden firms and real estate agents in both Madison and Chatham (names will be provided upon request) that having a community garden in any neighborhood increases the salability of homes.
Franklin, who sent the e-mail Thursday from PSE&G, said the decision to terminate the license agreement was based on "public outcry from the citizens of Madison."
"We're an operating utility, and that's our business," Franklin said." Where we can accommodate other uses on our property we try to do that, but we are not a garden club."
Vaughan said a revised plan for the community garden on the south side of Main Street had been submitted to PSE&G on Oct. 14, one that he hoped would alleviate some of the Madison residents' concerns of noise and traffic safety.
The biggest change in these revised plans was that the driveway to the parking lot would have been moved further north on Brooklake Road, away from Main Street. Franklin said he had not seen such a revision.
"I think some of the outcry was a little bit much, to say the least," Plambeck said. "It's been an award-winning garden on the other side of the street."
The Chatham Community Garden located south of Main Street on Division Road was given the "McFlower Town" award in 2010 in the Parks/Recreation Facilities category. "It's been a wonderful thing for the people that are down there, and a tremendous demand for more plots," Plambeck said.
Franklin said that PSE&G had recently approved a request to expand the existing garden. Vaughan said some of the land for the expansion was too wet and marsh-like to grow very much. The land across the street would have provided good land for growing vegetables, herbs and flowers, and Chatham residents who have been waiting for a garden plot could finally get one.
Now, Plambeck said, "We just have to go back to the drawing board."