ST. LOUIS - A family wants to build a home in the Benton Park neighborhood but the property is currently used as a community garden, and the people who maintain it don't want to see it go.
On a dreary winter day, neighbors will admit the garden doesn't look its best. However, they say it's vibrant other times of the year. People have married in the garden. Neighbors meet there for campfires and parties. There is a seating area. 11 people have plots with vegetables and plants.
"This is like our little hidden gem out here," said Bill Kranz, who represents the Garden Committee within the Benton Park Neighborhood Association.
Wednesday, the Land Reutilization Authority approved the Logan family's $13,000 bid to build a house on the property.
"I was upset," neighbor Marian Amies said. "I just felt people didn't understand really about how important this was."
Lynn Beauchaine has lived right across the street for 64 years. She and her neighbors not only love the garden but they also appreciate the property's history. Beneath the soil, there's a cave. Apparently, her dad saw the entrance to it.
"My father, who has also lived here his whole life, would tell me stories," Beauchaine said. "He would throw a penny in and said it was so deep down you couldn’t even hear it land."
Kranz said the entrance was eventually filled with dirt and tall grass took over.
"We're trying to clarify, on the old-time maps, if that was one of the legitimate cave openings out here," he said.
Eleven years ago, neighbors rolled up their sleeves and started the garden.
"Since 2006, we estimate 5,000 to 7,000 hours of volunteer effort," Kranz said.
It's called the English Cave Community Garden. However, in the future, it might just be called "home."
Mark Levison is chairman of the LRA, which has more than 350 garden leases. He said the family had every right to put in the bid because neighbors involved with the garden did not renew the lease.
"I feel bad for people that have put work into the garden but that's kind of part of the deal," Levison said. "It's kind of the case of 'someone wasn't tending the garden,' in this case, and so it went up for purchase."
Now, the garden community is left hoping the family will reconsider.
"With our own carelessness, we let the lease lapse with the LRA," Kranz said.
The LRA said the Logans will need to test the soil to make sure a house can be built on it. Mr. and Mrs. Logan tell 5 On Your Side, if the test results show that they may build, they will build. They say they're aware of the property's history and they too value greenery in the city, but they've lived in the neighborhood 22 years and there aren't many lots available that fit their needs.
Mr. Logan said he contributes to the development and revitalization of the southern end of Benton Park. He said he has developed two homes, which includes the home where he lives now.
Alderman Dan Guenther said he’s disappointed with the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing.
"It's disappointing that the LRA board would disregard the wishes of two neighborhood associations, Gateway Greening, and an alderman, to destroy our 11-year-old investment for the construction of one house,” Guenther said. “Our garden contributed to the reinvestment in Benton Park, and with 7,000 vacant lots in the city, this decision shows LRA doesn't understand or appreciate what truly builds community or brings back neighborhoods."
Guenther said the Benton Park and Benton Park West neighborhood associations both wrote letters in opposition of the sale.
Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia expressed her opinion on Twitter.
"This morning's LRA Commission decision set a dangerous precedent for all of St. Louis City's beloved, well tended to, and community building urban gardens. It flies in the face of such hard work by neighbors, Aldermen, St. Louis Food Policy Coalition and Gateway Greening," she said.