Dozens of supporters of a West Philadelphia garden that had been slated to be sold to a local developer broke out in cheers Wednesday after the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority board unanimously rejected the controversial deal.
The vote came after advocates of the 11,000-square-foot garden at Powelton Avenue and Wiota Street offered impassioned testimony before a standing-room-only crowd.
"The Red Cross House is right there. People who have been burned out of their homes. I would see John [Lindsay, who helped establish the garden 30 years ago] and other guys who work in the garden, and they would give them tomatoes and cucumbers. They'd be crying, they have no home," Davida Jackson, who lives across the street from the garden, told the board. "That garden needs to be there for the community and people who are burned out of their homes."
The five-member board ultimately rejected the proposal to sell the property to AJR Endeavors L.L.C. for $465,400, a deal that was not publicly bid and that the Redevelopment Authority said was "at the direction" of City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, who represents the district. The developer planned to build eight homes to be sold at market rates, and leave a tenth of the land as a community garden.
Anthony Fullard, one of the three partners in the development deal, expressed disappointment in the outcome.
"I think the RDA board was bullied against their own process," Fullard said, noting that he followed every step to get the approval of the local community groups.
Fullard said he had spent a lot of time with the redevelopment staff to make sure "this was right."
The audience gasped when a letter by Blackwell was read aloud that said she supported the project.
Blackwell, who was not at the meeting and could not be reached Wednesday night, had previously said that she did not directly authorize the sale of the property and that she wanted what was best for the community.
"Unbelievable backstabbing," someone in the audience called out.
The garden, created 30 years ago by local residents, has been eyed by developers several times over the last few years. Community members and garden advocates have pushed back each time.