Testimony on Stormwater Billing Exemption for Gardens and Farms

On June 2, 2016, Philadelphia’s four largest community garden and market farm land stewards (Norris Square Neighborhood Project, Village of Arts and Humanities, Urban Tree Connection, and Neighborhood Gardens Trust) each presented testimony to Philadelphia City Council on a stormwater billing exemption for gardens and farms. For them, this exemption represents relief of a huge burden. For the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), it is a small (approximately $40,000/year) investment with huge return in the form of assistance with stormwater management.

Even after more than 40 years of vibrant activity, so many of these places are at risk.  This exemption is critically important to support the work and the security of these community anchors. The exemption also overlaps with the goals set in the land bank strategic plan of putting vacant land back into productive use.

This exemption is almost five years in the making. Many gardens and garden organizations went into debt in reliance on this occurring. It has been a huge priority for gardens, farms, and support organizations that have been working with PWD to make this happen.

Staff attorney Amy Laura Cahn presented testimony on behalf of Justin Trezza, executive director of Norris Square Neighborhood Project:

“Good morning Finance Committee Members and thank you for affording me the opportunity to testify before you all in support of BILL NO. 160523, stormwater billing exemption for gardens and farms. My name is Justin Trezza, and for the last three years I have been the Executive Director of Norris Square Neighborhood Project, a grassroots arts, culture and gardening organization that for the last forty years has served residents, primarily youth identifying as Latin in the 19122, 19133 and 19140 zip codes.

“Since the 1980s, Norris Square Neighborhood Project  (NSNP) has been collaborating with community residents to advance the neighborhood through the revitalization of vacant spaces and their transformation to culturally relevant communal garden spaces.  Beginning in 1983 and thanks to the valiant efforts of the women of the community (Grupo Motivos), NSNP was able to establish its first urban garden, Raíces, which quickly grew into 5 additional gardens over the years – Las Parcelas, El Batey, Jardín de la Paz, Butterfly Garden and Villa Africana Colobo. Each of these gardens is fundamental to the community – by providing culturally relevant and affordable produce to the community, sharing the story and history of the neighborhood, and most importantly preserving the Boricua culture.

“NSNP strongly supports the Stormwater Billing Exemption (BILL NO. 160523) introduced by Councilmember Quiñones Sánchez and the benefits it affords community gardeners, farms and the City of Philadelphia. The bill will not only reduce the financial burdens posed by stormwater billing on gardens such as Las Parcelas, but also benefit the Philadelphia community as a whole (i.e. further incentive stormwater mitigation, beautification of neighborhoods, and access to organic produce). In the case of NSNP, an organization with a budget of half a million and a staff of eight, this bill will relieve us of over $6,000 in stormwater fees, a sum of money that can easily be reinvested in programs like our Raíces de Cambio – a youth garden apprenticeship program aimed to employ high school youth while developing their leadership skills and critical thinking.

“Beyond the benefits to nonprofits like Norris Square Neighborhood Project and the hundreds of urban gardens throughout the city, this bill demonstrates Philadelphia’s dedication, as a city, to modeling sustainability. By eliminating stormwater fees for gardens, you are acknowledging the ecological and social benefits of urban gardens and farms, such as increasing habitat for beneficial insects and birds, and most importantly preserving the sustainability of sacred spaces such as Las Parcelas.

Once again, thank you.”