Reclassification puts St. Anthony Park Community Garden’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy

Thirty-two years ago a bevy of horticulture enthusiasts established the St. Anthony Park Community Garden on land leased from Burlington Northern Railroad on Robbins Street east of Raymond Avenue.

Over the years, the garden grew. By 2000, prompted by the threat of the land being used as a steel coil off-loading facility, neighborhood residents and local businesses helped raise the money for the St. Anthony Park Community Council (SAPCC) to purchase this land from the railroad.

The council, a nonprofit organization, used funds obtained from a range of individual, private and public grants and donations. Today, more than 96 vegetable and flower plots are available for rent each year. Gardeners pay an annual fee, which includes access to a watering system.

The community gardens are a self-organizing project of the district council and are managed by a volunteer steering committee. In March, the Ramsey County assessor informed Amy Sparks, executive director of the SAPCC, that the community garden would no longer be considered tax-exempt and was being reclassified as agricultural non-homestead land. This means that the SAPCC, despite its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization, will be required to pay property taxes of nearly $5,000 starting in 2014, and that amount or more every year thereafter in addition to the regular assessments. Previously, the property was classified under Institutions of Purely Public Charity. Its value is currently assessed at $474,100 by Ramsey County.

“These changes could make renting a garden plot prohibitively expensive for many people,” said Sparks. The SAPCC is pursuing several parallel courses of action. The council has retained an attorney and begun researching topics relevant to the assessor’s decision.

As part of this strategic preparation, Sparks sent a survey to local community garden managers to collect information about the status and functions of their plots. Neighborhood resident Sherman Eagles, a longtime gardener and member of the steering committee, is involved in the SAPCC’s work and emphasizes the garden’s importance.

“This is not an immediate crisis, but it is something that we have to address in order to keep the community gardens functioning as they have in the past,” he said. “For now we just want to establish a core group to do some of the preliminary work.”

Community members interested in assisting the SAPCC with its efforts to preserve the tax-exempt status of the garden property may contact Sparks by email at amy@sapcc.org or call her at 651-649-5992.

Libby Donohue writes for the St. Anthony Park Community Council.

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