Transformation: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance
This week I am introducing a new series spotlighting the creative ways members of this community work together to make changes for the better. This series is brought to you by Cocoon Remodeling, experts in positive transformations.
About a decade ago, Habitat for Humanity handed over the keys to the last family moving into their new Habitat-built home on Bernard Street and left the Borough for the greener pastures (and lower lot costs) of West Grove and Coatesville. Since that final wave goodbye, a small parcel of land has sat vacant on Poplar Street. It sits between two homes with the Mt. Carmel Church of God in Christ to its back.
“It was nothing but a lot with overgrown grass,” said Garden Manager Varday Jacobs, who lives across the street from the property. Fortunately, his mother-in-law Reverend Dayna Spence, president of Dayna’s iCare Foundation, a non-profit she formed to help underprivileged children, saw it as something else.
She reached out to Habitat for Humanity and explained her foundation’s idea. “Habitat for Humanity gifted us the property when I asked to use the lot as a garden,” Dayna said.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t all go so smoothly. Unaware whether such a simple project would require Borough approval, Dayna sketched out her plans and dropped them off at Borough Hall with a handwritten note letting officials know that work was planned for the property. To her surprise, she got a response.
“We had to get a variance,” said Varday.
Turns out a garden does need a permit. In a bizarre Zoning Code stipulation, planting on a property that doesn’t have a physical building is considered “agriculture” and not allowed. Rather than fight to rewrite the Zoning Code, Dayna hired a lawyer and submitted the paperwork required for the exemption – which she did eventually get.
“I hope they do make it easier,” she said.
In May construction began on the Garden of Grace. (The garden was built custom by Vegetable Gardens 4U). Today, it is a thriving space with raised beds full of radishes, strawberries, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, baby cabbage, eggplant, and Brussels sprouts. Off to the side is a dedication walkway, carrying the names of people who helped make this transformation possible and a bench to just sit for a minute.
Once the vegetables are harvested they will be made available at no cost to the garden’s neighbors, excess will be brought to the West Chester Food Cupboard on nearby Bolmar St., a partner in the project. And that strange Borough zoning stipulation that deemed the project “agriculture”? It’s being fixed. (A Public Hearing is being held on August 18 to review the change.)
“I’m hoping the neighbors come out,” said Dayna. “It’s here to support the neighbors.”
Hello, West Chester! We are COCOON and we also call West Chester home. (You might have driven by our Design Studio on West Chester Pike.) If you didn’t know, we remodel homes – and we do our best to make remodeling as stress-free as possible. If you’re thinking about remodeling, reach out to us! We’d love to help you explore your options!
Originally published, July 21, 2023
This story is part of a longer weekly West Chester newsletter. Curious what else is going on? You can find the full issue here and the latest newsletter here. Even easier? Subscribe here to get the future issues delivered directly.