Friday, November 15, 2013

NorCo Eyes Preservation of Archibald Johnston Lands

Bethlehem's first Mayor, Archibald Johnston, was a man of contradictions. He was part of the Bethlehem Steel Company's management team who refused to negotiate with strikers who wanted Sundays off and 12 1/2 cents per hour. But during the Great Depression, he converted his Camel's Hump farm into a collective for farmers to share and barter different products. At the Steel, he was involved in making the machinery of war. But as Mayor, he was an active proponent of public health. His Steel Company is now the largest brownfield in the United States. But his lands along an important recharging point in the Monocacy Creek, served as a refuge, not just for him, but for native trout and even the Bald Eagle. In one of his last actions as Northampton County Executive, John Stoffa is trying to preserve this land, something he calls the central park of the Lehigh Valley.

Located along the south side of Route 22 near the Rte 191 Exit, and then extending south as far as the City of Bethlehem, Camel's Hump Farm is much smaller than it used to be. Much of the land has been developed. But what remains is still much like it was when Johnston lived there. Thanks to the generosity of Johnston granddaughter Janet Housenick, Bethlehem Township is the owner of a 55-acre passive use park, which includes the expansive colonial style mansion that Johnston built. Housenick even set aside $2 million to care for the lands.

That's not all, Before her death, Housenick gave the County what is now known as the 36-acre Archibald Johnston Conservation Area. Straddling Monocacy Creek, this land is adjacent to Housenick Park.

But other lands once owned by Johnston are being eyed by developers. Central Moravian Church owns 26 acres along the west side of Route 191 and east side of Housenick Park. The Leckonby Estate owns another 18 acres, located along Santee Mill Road in Bethlehem, on the south side of Housnick Park. Both sites are ideal for "luxury" apartments for yuppies who want to pretend they are at one with nature while they commute daily to NYC. The land on Route 191 is just right for another Scheetz gas station, or yet another strip mall.

Though the Moravian Church and Leckonby have both been pressured, they've resisted temptation so far and have entered into agreements with the County to sell to the Natural Lands Trust. The Central Moravian Church has signed a letter of intent with the County to sell its land for $367,500 from the County's open space fund, with a matching grant from DCNR. Settlement is planned next April. There is an agreement to sell the Leckonby tract for $290,000 in open space funds, with a matching DCNR grant.

This will enable the preservation of a cold water limestone stream with wild trout. The surrounding lands will help preserve that watershed and minimize storm water runoff downstream, like the run off that ruined Musikfest in Bethlehem two years ago. It is possible to link up to paths along the Monocacy leading south to the D and L trail, and north to the Nor-Bath Trail. It would present a seamless park and preserve system, with the Johnston Mansion as a focal point for education, history and community events.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this open space project is its potential for community gardens, in which residents will be able to grow and harvest crops.

But will it happen?

It's not completely environmentally sensitive land. It's not completely a farm. It's not completely a park. It's what they call a "tweener," something with aspects of each. The Open Space Advisory Board gave its blessing to this project at a meeting at Northampton Community College yesterday afternoon,  but that's the easy part.

I believe this has a better chance if Council does its due diligence as quickly as it can. If this goes into next year, and Council member Hayden Phillips has a vote, he is likely to conclude that the U.N. is secretly planning to use the site as a launching pad for its black helicopters.

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

tom muller has a corvette

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this will not happen. Mr. Phillips and the other conservatives were elected to stop this nonsense.

Mr. Brown stated he would cut costs. This is over a quarter of a million dollars of unnecessary cost.

The best we can hope for is the Rinos's that ran as conservatives and are leaving council will let this go until nest year. Over the past two years these Rino's have joined the liberal Democrats on council and spent millions of dollars on silly Stoffa projects and mistakes.

Enough spending, that was the point of the election.

Instead of building houses and collecting property taxes the county wants to spend millions to not collect taxes.

Time for real conservatives to get in office.

Sal Panto, Jr. said...

Sal Panto says:

I have no problem with our county assisting in another park however, they keep adding parks in the suburban townships with their magnificent community centers but yet they fail to make repairs to a bridge that serves Hugh Moore Park which the city of Easton maintains as a regional park. The park stretches through several boroughs and townships all the way to Rt. 33 in Bethlehem Township. The city has taken over maintenance of the park again and this past year finished paving the entire length of he recreational path. We are currently in the design stage for a $700,000 upgrade due to start next year.

The county needs to take care of their current facilites as well as expanding additonal parks and open spaces which I fully support.

Anonymous said...

No more bailing out the cities. Hopefully that is one of the core messages of the Republicans that will run Northampton County government next year!

Anonymous said...

Pave it, build on it, develop it. We don't need parks!
We need development.

Anonymous said...

A real conservative would save this extraordinary land for generations to come.

Anonymous said...

No wonder he keeps raising taxes and fees in Easton. What a money waster, that Panto. Sal, just put a commuter toll on the stupid bridge and say you didn't raise taxes. Make county workers and kids at McDonalds pay for your spending.

Anonymous said...

Only a right wing nut would oppose this spending while Panto's bridge is falling down and the Gracedale hole gets deeper. You're an ass. Panto and Phillips agree on this waste. You're a sore loser who doesn't care because you pay no county taxes. I for one and tired of carrying you. I didn't make you drink your miserable life away, you underachieving beggar.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of right wing nuts to go around.

Anonymous said...

Sal, the bridge you are referring to is a joke. What did it have, maybe 60 cars a day driving over it? And with the Glendon bridge 300 yards away? And you expect the county to spend millions to repair or replace it? Get real!

Victoria Bastidas said...

Respectfully, I believe that the information that the community is rallying around this project with donations of talents and resources has been overlooked. I agree that it makes no sense in our current economy to preserve what cannot sustain itself.
Through the use of a proven successful business model, this park will not only sustain itself, but will create jobs, hands-on internship sites for our education and engineering students, mentoring for our youth at-risk of failure, opportunities for our special needs and returning veterans, and allow people to grow fresh produce for their families that they would not otherwise be able to afford. All of this will be accomplished through volunteers and donations. This program is not about a hand out, but a hand up.

This is an opportunity to do a great deal of good while preserving our environment, our past and our future. All that is needed is that a portion of the taxes that we have paid be used for a project that we support.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Once again Bernie, Tax payers hold on to this stuff and for the most part they hunt on it , ride bikes have a picnic lunch. Would the property endowment go along too ? Open space subsidies are fine if you have a plan to hold off IRRESPONSIBLE developers where they skin the tax payers and move to Florida, What plan has been made here?It,s like John see[s a real nice "USED CAR " that needs a lot of gas and wants to preserve it, fine ,you have to have a plan.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate what Mr . O 'Hare has written and am thrilled about this whole concept becoming a reality.Future generations will be the real recipients of the beauty and value of the "Archibald Johnston Lands" as the over development mindset that has gripped the ABE area continues to roll over anything green.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Yes Anon 5;37 , it is a wonderful property and worthy of consideration.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Mr Cochran.

Anonymous said...

Bag the "programs", save the land. People don't need much help in figuring out how to use such an exquisite place, thank you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Sal, I can't speak to that bridge. I know it has been discussed but can't remember hue it was resolved. I will find out.

Thus project is not your typical suburban park. It will probably be more of a preserve. Moreover, it is in our urban core along rte 191 and 22. The community gardening will help people in that area.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Peter, there's a pretty detailed plan for this site.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In another response to Sal's complaint about the County constantly adding suburban parks, I am aware of only one in recent years at Grube Park. Prior to that there was Louise Moore, which was given to the county. There's Minsi Lake, primarily a fishery. None of these places has one of those fancy community centers. Sal added that attribute to stir up urban resentment of the more wealthy 'burbs. These parks are for everyone, including people from Easton. It is a great and inexpensive day trip for the people you represent, Sal. Please don't misrepresent county parks.

Anonymous said...
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Bernie O'Hare said...

I have no problem with the substance of your criticism, but let's try to use words that do not insult people with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

I won't mention the back to back grants DCNR gave to Heil Pool. Maybe 3? My local pool grant requst to rehab and make it ADA accessible but got rejeced multiple times. However, while it is in a neighborhood that was spawned by the industrial revolution when our lands were exploited by city millionaires, I come to realize it is not consider an urban core, core community, traditional neighborhood, with high density, over priced, loft apartments.

I do however support Sal's notion that existing facilities should not be overlooked. Sal is a good Mayor.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree that Sal is a good mayor and that the county does a lousy job of maintaining its own property, so I am going to get answers about that bridge for him, and i will get them today.

Bernie O'Hare said...

... or try. It's friday.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the $1M skatepark that also got back to back DCNR grants. Meanwhile, the kids in Northampton adjacent to the police station are skating on plywood and make shift ramps. Imagine what the K-Kids would do with $25K?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Brown said he would cut costs. Check out the county open space slush fund. One of many places to start.

Anonymous said...

I am forced to agree with the County Executive on this one. This will indeed become the Central Park of the Lehigh Valley. What a great place!
A tremendous investment in the future and worth every single dime. I say this as a fiscal conservative.

As for the bridge in Easton, can we keep keep these issues separate. It doesn't serve anyone to attach them,Sal.

Anonymous said...

Sal "amami" Pinto is a joke of a mayor, his only good decision recently has been the severing of police services to West Easton.

Anonymous said...

" I say this as a fiscal conservative."

Real conservatives know the path to Hell is lined with good intentions. Stoffa is a liberal Democrat. Most "real conservatives" voted to stop this sort of sentimental nonsense in the future. The only important thing the county can do is not raise our taxes. Stop spending money you don't have to, and you won't need to raise taxes.

A lot of Faux conservatives out there. Lets see if the new conservatives we elected are real.

Anonymous said...

Open space is Not A a Slush Fund, it was voted on by the electorate and the people of NORCO said they want .5 of a mil set aside for this exact expense. Just because t-Baggers got elected does not mean it is a slush fund all of a sudden, it is mandated by law to do this exact type of thing, preserve open space.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

There has indeed been pressure to further develop that and the nearby property.

In 2011, Woodmont went to the Board pitching apartments on property in question. As reported, “Besides the traffic created by such a project and prospects of Christian Springs Road becoming a thoroughfare, Commissioner Tom Nolan said he is concerned the development would have a negative impact on 90 acres of nearby parks, the Janet and William D. Housenick Memorial Park and the Archibald Johnston Conservation Area. Commissioner Jerry Batcha said, "The area is zoned rural-residential and I don't want to rezone it ... . It looks good on paper, but is not a practical plan."” M. Call May 20, 2011 (not in article, but isn’t the tract in a conservation overlay district??)

Later that year for property a few houses up from this proposed preservation, on the crest of 191, “Dave Harte, Vice President of PA Venture Capital (Atiyeh), stated he was present this evening to see if the Board of Commissioners had any interest in re-zoning a property on Route 191 in order for PA Venture Capital to do a convenience store with gas pumps.” Township Minutes, Nov 7, 2011.

Then in 2012, after the Board changed, Woodmont came back to pitch apartments again, and (to his credit) explaining his vote against the Woodmont proposal Commissioner Zawarski, acknowledged: “What is being asked is to develop this with a very high density use,” Zawarski said. “There will be a development here, no doubt about it, but that development must be respectful of this specific area and of our community.” Express March 6, 2012

Read that again, “there will be a development here, no doubt about it…”. My philosophy has always been, private property is controlled by the owner within the confines of community-developed Zoning, or by buying it your self. With this tract, a.) one can buy it to preserve it (as is now proposed via public funding), b.) one can keep the restrictive zoning (I believe w/out looking it up RR/CO) to keep development minimal but at a cost to the property owners’ potential value, or c.) you can rezone it as requested to allow intense development.

I hope option (a.) is ultimately successful, as was recommended. There are places (such as this) that should be naturally preserved, and there are places (like Rte 33 corridor) that are natural to develop. Regardless, once it is gone, there is no undoing it.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

Finally, I know she has been viewed by some as a thorn in the side, but I really have to commend Victoria Bastidas for her commitment to this property. Yes, many others have been because of their positions, but she didn’t have to. Not to diminish others, but hers is a genuine passion. Hopefully, the Township, Trust, County, and Friends can continue forward with mutual cooperation, respect, and trust.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I did find out what is bothering Sal, and why that bridge is not being repaired yet, and will write about it next week.

Coffee, Tea, Or Close Gracedale? said...
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Bernie O'Hare said...

Your comment is completely OT. Try to be relevant, if you can.

Anonymous said...

I posted earlier as a fiscal conservative. And I am a true fiscal conservative. But I am not a teabag lunatic,to be sure.

Anonymous said...

"the people of NORCO said they want .5 of a mil set aside for this exact expense."

For the record the "voters" never said or voted for that specific tax. Stoffa campaigned and said he would raise the tax for open space but he said many other things too. Don't make these erroneous statements. With the help Of O'Hare, you and Stoffa and the tree huggers have tried to make this some sort of law, it is not. There are no "specific use" county taxes and no "binding " referendums in the county. Fact!!!

Mayor Brown promised to cut county costs in his campaign. He was elected, so I assume you agree that voters voted to cut county costs.

The open space fund has millions of unused county taxpayer money in it. People like you liberals will surely find a way to spend it, you always do.

Why do you think we voted the straight conservative ticket.
All the spending that has been going on has to stop. No new taxes.

Bernie O'Hare said...

This comment comes from someone who has a hot nut for Stoffa and for me. Gee, I wonder who that could be. But not too much.

In 202, Northampton County voters overwhelmingly authorized County Council to borrow up to $37 million for farmland preservation, protection of environmentally sensitive lands, and park acquisition and improvements. I know this all too well bc i opposed this referendum, which was being pushed by none other than John Stoffa.

Council never borrowed a dime.

When Stoffa ran for Executive in 2005, he ran on a pledge to raise taxes 1/4 mill for open space. As he likes to put things, the people voted for him anyway.

In 2006, Stoffa came up with a continuing open space plan that is pay-as-you-go, which is the kind of plan I wanted in the first place. It passed and has been in operation since.

It is true that the funding can be diverted to other things when the need arises. That is its weakness. It is not a dedicated tax bc you can't bind future councils.

But the support for open space acquisition is overwhelming, and for good reason. There will be bad projects like the boglands in Upper Mt Bethel, which were a waste of money. This is not.

Persons who oppose this do not do so out of conservatism, but out of mean-spiritedness.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Look, conservative or liberal, we are all in this Northampton County together.Who ever has the phrase "GAS PUMP" as development is low class or no class ,but gas! Service stations should be at lower cost, less desirable areas . That is why the "fuel points" on military posts are not around the more aesthetically valued areas on post.The principle here is ,DON'T let somebody screw up nice property with a freaking gas pump, billboard or some amusement deal.Ask yourself ,Would the folks in Saucon Valley allow this development? They are heavy tax payers AND THEY RUN THINGS for a living. They would be a litmus test .They would fight to get things their way if threatened by the stuff that Bethlehem Twp. will endure shortly under the HUN.Lift your standards and quality and these characters can't afford to invade you. .

Anonymous said...

"As he likes to put things, the people voted for him anyway."

Yes, we have all heard that hokey story over and over again. As a would be comedian county executive, he has been a failure at both.

Once again, no one ever voted for a .5mil of county tax to go to open space. That is a Stoffa plan. It is not law.

As to hating O'Hare, you are not that bog a deal. Neither will Stoffa be after January.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yet you waste an awful lot of time,even on a Fri night, showing your hatred. So what does that make you? Let me guess. Someone who gets 46 votes.

Sal Panto, Jr. said...

BOH
I see your cowards are stil here hiding behind their anon posts. Even still, I will address them. I am in full support of funding the estate as a preserve open space or park. It is a piece of history. My point was that the county's parks are all in suburbs and not in the cities

In Easton we have two regional parks being maintained by city residents but enjoyed by the region. Hugh Moore Park and Hackett Park. We have been updating both of them as they have been neglected over the years.

While the bridge in question doesn't serve the multitudes of people it is important for people to be able to get across the canal. The brige over the Lehigh we just repaired to the tune of $1.4 million.

Without notice the county shut the bridge down. It is barricaded. As a fscal conservative myself I am not asking them to spends millions. I am asking themn to at least determine what the cosy of the repairs will be and then a decision can be made.

I know some are still upset about the commuter tax and so am I but they should be calling on the state for meaningful public pension reform.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1) The County's parks, such as they are, do not include those community centers you mention. Those are in several township parks.

2) This is not technically a park. part of it will be a park. Part of it will be a preserve. Part of it will be a community garden center.

3) This property is partially located in the City of Bethlehem. It is entirely within an urban core.

4) Money for open space comes from a tax for that purpose. Money for bridge repairs comes from liquid fuels tax, state grants and bonding proceeds.

5) The County just floated a bond to repair 18 structurally deficient bridges, and that works will be completed within three years. After than, there will likely be another bond.

6) Bridge 168, to which you refer, appears to be located in Glendon, not Easton. It is an access point for the beautiful Hugh Moore Park. It is mostly used by people as a short cut to avoid going over the Glendon bridge about 200' away. As you correctly observe, it does not get much legal use.

7) During a bridge inspection late this Spring, the bridge was determined to be unsafe for vehicular or pedestrian use as a result of structural deficiencies. On 6/12, PennDOT bridge inspectors ordered that the bridge stay closed until repairs can be effected. The deficiencies include deck stringers and sidewalk floor beams. While it is important to keep lines of communication open, and perhaps the county could have done a better job of informing you, the bridge had to be closed.

8) There are two utilities with lines along that bridge, which goes over both a railroad and the canal. Whatever is done must be coordinated with them.

9) The fact that two utilities there improve the prospect of finding funding to effect repairs. That is the state of the matter at present. The County is attempting to use the utilities to leverage funding.

10) Aside from very limited liquid fuels tax or bind proceeds, the County would have to dip into real estate tax revenue to pay for these repairs. Before doing so, it is fiscally prudent to try to identify other funding sources. If this were a heavily traveled bridge, it would have to be fixed now.

That is what I was able to learn today from Steve DeSalva, the Director of Public Works. He was under the impression he had kept you in the loop, and if you were not, I am sure he will apologize to you the next time he sees you.

Keep up the great work in Easton. You care a great deal, and i wish you were the County Exec.

Bernie O'Hare said...

One final point. Steve did not have to estimated cost at the tip of his tongue, and did not want to give you bad information. My guess is it's not cheap.

Anonymous said...

I sway to the right for the most part. But I'm an ardent conservationist so I support this 110%. I've been back here multiple times and the tract has some wonderful potential. I hope this gets done. I find developers to be some of the most evil people in thw world, even more then you bernie(nudge nudge wink wink).

Hank_Hill

Anonymous said...

That land is worth millions of dollars to both the church and the County. Why would taxpayer money be spent buying land that is not really worthy of preserving? Why would the church settle on pennies on the dollar? Typical democratic progressivism using taxpayer money to preserve something not needing preserving. Another question is who will be responsible for maintaining all this land and at what costs?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is ridiculous to categorize open space in "liberal" or "conservative" terms. You either care about this area and sustaining a high quality of life for those who follow us, or you don 't.

This property will be owned and maintained by the Natural Lands Trust.

Anonymous said...

7:58
Your a small brained asshole,somebody has to take the responsible to point that out.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

To the supporters of the newly elected GOP councilpersons: it is ironic that two of the four Presidents on Mount Rushmore are Republicans. One (Lincoln) helped save the union and end slavery. The other, TR, balanced the value of both America's great economic productivity as well as conservation of our natural resources for both the present and posterity. Both of them, I am sure, would be considered RINOs by today's Tea Party GOP. Irony.

T. Roosevelt: "it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals -- not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening."

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sal Panto said ...
"As a fiscal conservative myself ..."

Bernie's right that liberal or conservative has nothing to do with this issue. However, fiscal conservatives don't develop a special tax on kids who come to Easton to work at McDonald's. Tax and spend, heartless liberal assholes do that. Sal lies about not raising taxes and doesn't apologize or make it right. Barack admitted his lie and made it right. Sal should follow the President's example.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Anon 5;45 --Mr. Panto has been much more conservative than his first shot at Mayor. A entry level at McDonald's is always part time and at that wage they would contribute about $2.00 a week . Now I would tell you that I would be a lot harder than he is on the budget. I keep our house below 65 degrees in the winter after nov.15th-turn hear switch "ON" some of his spaces are 65 in the summer. Fuel, well I walk to work ,and this check spent $29.65 in 15 days. I rinse my coffee beans another 50 %.I use the back of other peoples copy paper, My hot water temp is on "vacation". Conservative -is a mind set!Good Morning!

Bernie O'Hare said...

2:55, If you want to be a flamethrower, sign your name.

Anonymous said...

I have been fortunate to live all over our beautiful country. In urban and suburban areas where beautiful parks and preserved natural areas are created and nurtured as part of the community. I support the actions of the gifted members of our community who have had the vision and are devoting countless hours of their time to create the preserve for not only our community but also the residents of the greater Lehigh Valley and the citizens of Pennsylvania. This is also about preserving the history and legacy of one of the most progressive residents and mayors Archibald Johnston.

Anonymous said...

I think it is ironic that the Central Moravian Church wanted to sell their portion of environmentally sensitive property along the Monacacy Creek to a developer. The land would have been paved over and would have contributed to, and further exasperated flooding conditions further down stream. Flooding that damages property that they own, that of Moravian College, City of Bethlehem and Historic Bethlehem where Musikfest is held.

Elizabeth Prime willed this property to the Moravians so it would be preserved, not to make a quick buck $. I certainly don’t believe the Central Moravian Church needs the money that badly that they should be so reckless as to sell to a developer. If they don’t want to be conservators for this property then they should do as Janet and Bill Housenick did, donate it to the County. The Housenicks did not sell out to developers. They donated a large tract of their property to the County for the Archibald Johnston Conservation Area and another tract to Bethlehem Township for passive conservation.

Anonymous said...

Apparently if people are against spending millions of county taxpayer money on "nature zones" for the idle rich and poor, that is wrong on here. Just another sign of liberal intolerance.

It is the wish of the majority of voters that this nonsense ends after January. One thing that cannot be silenced is the voting public. The voting public overwhelmingly wants real conservative county government.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Excuse me but a 18% turnout is not a reflection of the will of the people. It's a reflection of apathy, a surrender to dark forces. The claim that this project is for the idle rich is pure nonsense. This project will enable families to feed themselves. It will be a resource of local food, which by itself is a justification. There will be programs for disadvantaged youth, education in our failing school systems, and it will deter the flooding in Bethlehem. Your comment is sheer ignorance and reflects hatred, not facts.

Anonymous said...

The people have spoken. How about we pay he real bills, not raise taxes and finally run a tight ship.
That is what the county taxpayers want. No tax increase

Bernie O'Hare said...

18% of the people have spoken. With the exception of one of the six people elected, they chose people who support open space. Eight years ago, when people voted for Stoffa even though he promised a tax raise for open space, they voted for open space. And in 2002, with a 65% majority, they chose open space. So yes, the people have spoken time and again, yet you defy them.

Anonymous said...

Real Conservatives conservative things of great value !!!!

Anonymous said...

anon 3:41 makes no sense.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I deleted an anonymous personal attack against a proponent of this project, along with all the responses.

Anonymous said...

Bernie in regards to your 10:36 comment to Peter, I know the Township has a Master plan for their park in place. Is there a plan for the new lands? I haven't heard of any. Where can I see it?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Only a rough plan exists, which was described at the open space meeting. Some of the land will be converted into a preserve, with nature trails. Some of the leckonby land will be used for community gardening. A formal plan is needed, but first the purchase money is needed.