ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The non-profit 490Farmers is speaking out after receiving its permit renewal request was denied by the State Department of Transportation (DOT), which owns and regulates the land. The group provides community garden plots for residents, a free food pantry, children’s garden, food forest, and more. Part of the correspondence with DOT also includes several changes it is requiring for the east side location.

490Farmers sits on either side of Broadway and Meigs Streets, right above its namesake, I-490. The permit renewal denial comes as the organization recently expanded to the west side due to the growing need and desire in the community.

“We’re trying to expand. We have a waitlist every summer for plots and so we have 15 people on the wait list right now for the summer and we were hoping that with the expansion to the west side, we could really accommodate as many community members that wanted to be here and garden with us could,” says Karen Soanes, Chair of the 490Farmers Board and a plot member.

The land is state-owned and cannot be developed which is something 490Farmer Founder Chloe Smith says was part of the inspiration to start the project seven years ago. According to the denial letter from the DOT, which effectively cancels the permit altogether, the newly expanded west side garden must be taken down within 10 days. There is also a list of demands for the east side which includes the removal of certain aspects of the garden such as beehives, the Free Food Pantry, water catchment roofs, picnic benches, and children’s garden area.

“With the downsizing, we had to let go of a lot of things and make decisions that were really really tough. Do we feed people through our free food forest? Do we have the plots? Do we take away our flower farm? Do we take away our children’s garden? So that has been really really difficult,” says Executive Director Courtney Klee.

The biggest point of frustration the non-profit has voiced is the lack of explanation for its west side permit being revoked, noting some of the issues given by the DOT were never formally laid out in the permit, itself.

“They’re not specifically not allowed, so, we’ve never actively or willfully violated our permit whatsoever. The westside being revoked is not our fault really. We’re assuming it has to do with the encampment that’s over there which has predated us by many years and that’s really all we can infer because we haven’t been given an official reason for the permit being revoked,” Founder Chloe Smith says.

The group was also told it cannot hold volunteer nights, giving the following response for the reasoning to 490Farmers:

“Any special events or gatherings in or at the permit area must be approved in advance by the NYSDOT and may require issuance of an additional permit. Approval by the City of Rochester will also be required. The community garden shall be operated in a manner consistent the City of Rochester codes, rules, and regulations.”

In response to this story, DOT Spokesperson Joe Morrissey provided the following statement:

“Urban gardens bring communities together and provide a forum for fresh, locally grown products, which the State Department of Transportation supports. On this land adjacent to Interstate 490, a 30-day revocable permit was issued seven years ago to the 490 Farmers organization to provide an urban community garden, with an additional 30-day revocable permit granted for a small expansion to the west. This west side expansion has not abided by the criteria allowable under the permit, despite numerous attempts to bring it back into compliance. As a result, the Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the City of Rochester, recently informed the 490 Farmers that the permit for the western portion has been revoked. The Department and the City will continue to work with the 490 farmers to bring them back into compliance with the original permit.”

490Farmers is now seeking community support in the form of letters sent to the organization so they can be collected and presented to the DOT and City of Rochester. The City of Rochester deferred News 8 to the DOT for this story, noting the agency issues the permits for that land.