SOUTH PORTLAND – About 40 plots in a new community garden will be available for planting next spring.

On Wednesday night, the City Council approved leasing a portion of the playing fields at the former Hamlin School to the Community Garden Collective, a nonprofit organization that first presented its plan to the council in January.

The collective has already promised 30 of the 10-foot-by-10-foot plots to residents.

“We’re going to have a waiting list,” said Helen Slocum, a member of the collective’s board of directors, after the vote.

Several members of the board, as well as residents, spoke in favor of the project. They said the garden would provide much-needed space for people to grow healthy, low-cost food and gather with others in their community.

Councilor Thomas Coward said many South Portland residents have yards that aren’t conducive to gardening because they’re too small, rocky, sloped or shady.

The city has a community garden at Hinckley Park, but the site isn’t well managed and it’s becoming increasingly shady because of growing trees, said Councilor Patti Smith, who’s a member of the collective’s board.

Still, there’s room to expand there, said Councilor Maxine Beecher.

A termination clause in the Community Garden Collective’s lease, repeatedly referred to as a “sticking point” of the deal, says the city will reimburse the collective if the city sells the property within the next five years.

The clause was added in recent months because the collective expressed concern about investing money to develop garden plots on land that the city may want to sell.

Previously, the lease said the city would only have to give 90 days’ notice to terminate the lease. The collective said it would be difficult to get grant money without a more secure agreement.

Beecher made a motion to remove the clause and revert back to the lease originally proposed. That amendment was voted down, 4-3.

All of the councilors said they favor the concept of the project. They voted 6-1, with Beecher opposed, to approve the lease.

Under the agreement, the city will have to reimburse the collective for 50 percent of its investment in the property, up to $10,000, if the city sells the land by the end of next year. The maximum reimbursement will decrease each year. 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@mainetoday.com