September 2, 2013

Spat over community garden grows

Opponents are camping on the site to protest the Legion's plans to clear it for a parking lot.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

PALERMO - Phillip Frizzell said if the bulldozers come Monday to destroy the organic community garden that feeds 30 families, he will not do a thing to stop them.

click image to enlarge

Connie Bellet and her husband, Phillip Frizzell, work in the Palermo Community Garden on Sunday. A lawyer representing the Legion now says there will be no bulldozers Monday.

David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

"We'll just let them demolish it and we'll go to the courts, which is basically all we can do," he said Sunday afternoon at the Palermo Community Garden, which he and his wife, Connie Bellet, manage with help from volunteers next to their mobile home off Turner Ridge Road.

They lease the land for their home and gardens from Malcolm Glidden American Legion Post 163 for $1 and it's paid through 2020, when it expires. The lease stems from a 1999 lease after the land was donated by a resident. Belfast District Court confirmed two years ago that the lease is enforceable.

They give produce from the gardens to the Palermo Food Pantry in the nearby community center.

Frizzell and Bellet got a letter last month from the Legion post saying the organization plans to clear the garden site to build a parking lot.

Frizzell and Bellet were told to remove the sheds, gardens and other property before construction begins Monday. The letter is dated July 23 and signed by Legion commander Clayton York Jr.

"Any structure not moved by (Sept. 2) will be moved by the Legion," the letter says

Bellet is president of the Living Communities Foundation, which is hosting a two-day garden party to celebrate the garden's abundance. The party started Sunday afternoon and by about 3:30 p.m. more than a dozen people had turned out to eat, listen to music and set up tents to spend the night in.

They said they would stay into Monday and lend support for the garden if the Legion makes good on its promise to bulldoze it.

"If they're going to come in with a bulldozer tomorrow, I'm going to be here," said Mike Dunn, a Navy veteran.

Bellet and Frizzell said they called the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department and a deputy was going to be on hand Monday to help ensure the event is peaceful and people are safe.

But Bellet, Frizzell and the party guests may not have to worry.

Matt Evans, a lawyer representing the Legion, said earlier Sunday there will be no bulldozers Monday.

"The Legion does not want to add additional controversy to this," Evans said in a telephone interview. "Their plans are currently on delay until a different way can be found to make this all work."

Frizzell said no one told them that. "As far as we're concerned, the threat is still imminent," he said.


The dispute between the Legion and the gardeners has been going on for several years.

"There has been animosity between the two groups for quite some time," Evans, the Legion's lawyer, acknowledged.

Contacted by telephone Sunday, York confirmed there would be no demolition Monday. "This is totally blown out of proportion," he said.

York said he has been getting hate mail and phone calls from people over the issue. He agreed to meet with a reporter at his South China home at 4 p.m. Sunday, but no one answered the door around that time.

Evans said the Legion is doing nothing wrong. The land on which the Palermo Community Foundation and American Legion post are was formerly owned by John Potter, now dead, who donated land to each entity.

The lease, which was effective in 1999, allowed the couple to put a mobile home and storage shed on the Legion property. The Legion sought to have a court deem the lease unenforceable and void, but Belfast District Court Judge Patricia G. Worth ruled April 27, 2011, in Bellet and Frizzell's favor.

(Continued on page 2)

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