Community garden hangs in balance of failed land sale

A deadline to purchase the former site of Temple University's Tyler School of Art in Elkins Park passed Wednesday with a potential buyer unable to secure financing and the fate of a community garden unclear.

The purchase agreement between the university and the Land Conservancy of Elkins Park, a nonprofit group that owns and operates an adjacent conference center, expired because the organization was unable to find an investor to replace a partner who had dropped out.

The conservancy will continue to pursue purchasing the 12-acre property, said David Dobson, its executive director.

Temple officials declined to comment Wednesday beyond highlighting a statement in a June 15 letter sent to Cheltenham Township officials that the school will examine "all available possibilities for the entire former Tyler School of Art site."

Temple officials told him that they would be exploring other options, Dobson said.

Watching closely are the members of the LaMott Community Garden Club, a group that grows fruits and vegetables on a 1.8-acre portion of the former Tyler site.

The gardeners are lobbying Temple to separate the garden from the larger property and preserve it by donating it to a land trust.

Dobson has said that if he purchases the property, the garden could be sold to a developer. He also said he would not object to excluding the garden from the sale with Temple and renegotiating the price.

Residents have gardened on the Graham Lane site for at least 80 years, said Diane Williams, acting president of the garden club. The property has links to abolitionist Lucretia Mott, railroad heiress Stella Elkins Tyler, and Camp William Penn, the first federal recruiting and training camp for black soldiers during the Civil War.

The club has enlisted the aid of Philadelphia lawyer Michael Coard. Coard and his Avenging the Ancestors Coalition were instrumental in pushing Independence National Historical Park to recognize the slaves who served President George Washington as part of the President's House reconstruction project.

"When Diane told me that people like Harriet Tubman walked" in the area of the garden, "that's all she had to say," Coard said.

 


Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.