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Columbia Street Garden Gets Thumbs Up, Despite Concern of Rats

COLUMBIA STREET WATERFRONT DISTRICT — A proposed community garden in a vacant lot on Columbia Street won approval from Community Board 6 Wednesday night, despite neighbors' concerns that the green space will attract rats and other vermin.

The project, located at 313 Columbia St., was brought forward by a group of residents who plan to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs for the community and local food banks.

Those who opposed the proposal contended that the community garden could spark an infestation — one that could be particularly damaging to local businesses.

“Rodents love fruits and they love vegetables,” said Roger Rigolli, who owns a tea- and herb-packaging factory on Woodhull Street, at the board meeting.

When grass and weeds grew tall in the vacant lot, he continued, rats would appear and damage the private-label tea bags, herbs and other supplies packed by his company, Blue Ridge Tea & Herb Co., Ltd. After the greenery was removed, however, the rat-problem subsided.

“Enough with these gardens,” Rigolli said.

The board, however, ultimately voted to approve the garden.

“Rats eat more protein-oriented things,” as opposed to fruits and vegetables, said board member Lou Sones, adding that the presence of people in the garden might scare off the critters.

The community garden has also attracted support from GreenThumb, a Parks Department program that supports more than 500 community gardens.

About two-thirds of the lot is paved, but organizers said they plan to place raised garden beds atop a cemented area, allowing community members to grow plants on a first-come, first-served basis.

The lot, owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, can be maintained as a garden until 2015, when the city is expected to announce alternative plans for the space.