The long-term future of Durango’s only community garden could be in question.
The Ohana Kuleana Community Garden is located near the 2900 block of East Sixth Avenue, just west of Riverview Elementary School.
The 1.19-acre property was first obtained by La Plata County in the 1930s, said Kathleen Moore, assistant county attorney.
In the 1950s, La Plata County deeded the property to Durango School District 9-R on the condition it be used for recreation or playgrounds. As part of the agreement, if 9-R was no longer using the land for this purpose, it would revert to the county, which happened in the early 2000s.
The county tried to sell the property, but those attempts failed because of stormwater issues that complicated development.
In 2010, La Plata County resident Bob Lieb expressed interest in using the grounds for a community garden that would be sponsored by his company, Durango Threadworks. Lieb was elected as a county commissioner in 2000 and served until 2008.
The county entered an agreement with Lieb to lease the property for 10 years at a rate of $3,600 a year. Part of the contract, county records show, allowed Lieb the option to buy the property at the end of the lease for $300,000. He exercised that option Tuesday.
The contract was approved in 2010 by the then-county commissioners, who added another condition that locks the agreement so it could not be changed in the future.
Lieb, speaking to county commissioners Tuesday, said he would prefer to keep the property a community garden and is exploring the idea of placing the grounds in a conservation easement, which would ensure it remains open space in exchange for tax relief.
He said he has invested more than $200,000 of his own money making improvements to the land since 2010, including fixing the stormwater runoff issues.
Lieb said he couldn’t promise the grounds will always remain a community garden, saying his financial situation could change in the future, which might require a sale, or his heirs may want to develop the land.
County Commissioners Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff expressed a degree of frustration with the agreement previous county commissioners approved in 2010, which prohibits them from changing the contract.
Speaking to The Durango Herald, Carrie Woodson, La Plata County assessor, said since the land has been county-owned and therefore tax exempt, it hasn’t been reviewed closely for valuation.
However, Woodson said a rough estimate values the property at $756,600, though that may be a little high.
“For future commissioners … I hope we look to try to keep those resources in public hands going forward,” Lachelt said.
Westendorff said she hopes Lieb finds a way to keep the grounds a public resource.
“Fingers crossed it remains possible,” she said.
Lexie Stetson-Lee, executive director of the Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, speaking to the Herald, said Ohana Kuleana is the only community garden in Durango where a member of the public can purchase a plot of land.
The Garden Project oversees the community garden, but it is run and maintained entirely by volunteers, Stetson-Lee said.
Half plots cost $80, and a full plot costs $140 for a year, and there are 45 plots total in the 12,000-square-foot garden.
Stetson-Lee said plots usually sell out, and the garden is enjoyed by all kinds of people in Durango, especially students at Riverview and senior citizens who are looking for community connection.
“It’s extraordinary, a gift of that kind,” she said. “We’re pretty lucky Bob is even looking to purchase. And if the gardeners can keep gardening for a while, that will warm their hearts.”
Westendorff and Commissioner Clyde Church voted to approve the agreement with Lieb. Because the county was unable to change the terms of the agreement, and because she didn’t support it, Lachelt chose to abstain.