Thursday was a big day for gardening in Morristown.
Local officials got word that the Morris County Freeholders approved a $1.575 million grant to Morristown for the purchase of the community garden on Early Street.
Combined with a $480,000 state Green Acres grant, the funds will enable the town to buy the privately owned 0.9-acre parcel where residents have been growing tomatoes, lettuce, pumpkins, squash and other items for the last four years. The town then will lease back the property to Grow It Green Morristown, the nonprofit that started the garden.
“I think it’s terrific,” said Mayor Tim Dougherty, who green-lighted the application to acquire property that had been earmarked for redevelopment. Preserving the garden will be a plus for the neighborhood, for new residents who will come with surrounding redevelopment, and for residents from a nearby seniors complex, the Mayor said.
It also demonstrates the town’s commitment to open space, which includes the recent creation of parks on Hillcrest Avenue and Washington Street, he said.
Once the town acquires the land, Grow It Green can proceed with plans to expand the garden and create a mini-park, said Carolle Huber, co-founder of the nonprofit.
“This is really good news,” she said of the grant from the county’s Open Space Trust Fund.
Grow It Green plans to push back the fence fronting Early Street by 30 feet to create a “parklet,” Carolle said. It might include benches, chess tables and shade trees. Neighborhood suggestions will be solicited.
“That’s the exciting thing. It’s really for the community to decide,” Carolle said.
Right now there are 44 garden beds and a waiting list of gardeners who want more plots. A back area of the property will be used to expand the total to between 55 and 70 beds, Carolle said.
According to the freeholders, there also will be a path from the back of the garden to St. Margaret’s Church.
“This thriving community garden project fulfills a recreational need for people of all ages in an urban setting,” Greg Poff, chairman of the county’s Open Space Trust Fund Committee, said in a statement.
Grow It Green and the town began seeking funds about a year ago to buy the land, which is owned by Tim Jones. The Trust for Public Land worked closely with Phil Abramson from the town’s planning firm, Jonathan Rose Companies, to make it happen.
The closing probably is a couple of months away, according to Kathy Haake, project manager for The Trust for Public Land. An environmental assessment must be completed and a few other loose ends must be tied up, she said.
Carolle said Grow It Green now can focus its fund-raising efforts on the expansion. The nonprofit got a jump-start from Marty’s Reliable Cycle, which has contributed $12,500 from its Gran Fondo event in September. Grow It Green also operates the Urban Farm at Lafayette, a teaching garden, and it’s attempting to start another community garden on Martin Luther King Avenue.