ROGERS PARK — The Peterson Garden Project plans to transform the "unsightly" vacant lot at Howard Street and Ashland Avenue into a 130-bed urban garden and community area.
LaManda Joy, the organization's founder and president, said more and more people over the years had been asking for the project to bring a community garden to Rogers Park.
"Five years ago, when you heard community gardening, you thought hostas, old ladies and rose bushes," she said.
Now, Joy says, "we could probably put in 10 gardens there's so much demand."
The lot, formerly the site of Lerner Newspapers' printing operations, has sat empty for years as tumultuous ownership and environmental contamination marred the property.
The city bought the property last year for $900,000 with plans to sell it to a developer.
On Wednesday, the City Council approved a zoning change that would allow for a high-density development. The city plans to issue a request for proposals from developers sometime this winter, said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).
"We're looking at some long-term plans for the Howard-Ashland site," he said. "But in the meantime we don't want to let the land kind of lie the way it has ... weed-choked and pretty unsightly."
So, he decided to offer the lot to Joy and the Peterson Garden Project, which signed a $1, two-year lease with the city.
In coming months, Joy said, neighbors could expect big changes.
The southern half of the one-acre lot would be reserved for at least 130 raised garden beds, with room to expand if there's enough interest from the neighborhood. Facing Howard Street, about a third of the land would be reserved for a stage and community space, according to plans.
An heirloom pumpkin patch would act as a "buffer" between the two areas, Joy said.
Beginning in February, neighbors can become members of the group to gain access to a 4-foot-by-8-foot garden plot, she said. The cost is $75. But hurry: The project's new beds in Andersonville filled up in 24 minutes earlier this year.
"We really like the idea of the lot being a community gathering space," said Katrina Balog, who works with the Rogers Park Business Alliance. "Right now it's just kind of an eyesore for people and it's detracting from the street."
She said the alliance would help to bring community events and programming to the lot, as well as more foot traffic to Howard.
"On any given day," she said, "you can have hundreds of people visiting Howard Street."
A public meeting about the Howard Street garden project is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Willye B. White Park, 1610 W. Howard St.