By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Sr. Staff Writer
One of the Beatles happier songs involves a garden by the sea, and none of them would be surprised to find one on idyllic Seabrook Island. Yet not just one, but technically over 50 gardens apportioned from a single tract near the maintenance shed beside the stables. The garden has been there for close to 20 years, and getting a plot was as easy as filling out a form. Token applications typically received rubber-stamp approval/ renewal from the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA), until a rule change last August left Mary Johnson landless.
The Septuagenarian “has two joys in life; her gardening, and her grandkids,” according to a Seabrook resident who asked their name not be used.
Johnson has been renting [and gardening] on Seabrook for the past 14 years, and a ‘property owners only’ rule has her garden rights in question. Certain SIPOA and its board of directors didn’t realize the ramifications of the rule, several residents explained the effects of the change, and are seeking an exception.
Alison Standard grew frustrated after a couple of months of inaction, and launched a Care2 petition begging for an exception. She got 73 signatures, including over 30 from other gardeners. Standard thought she prevailed on the board when an amendment that would have allowed Johnson to keep her plot was placed on the agenda for a vote during SIPOA’s board meeting on Dec. 10. Board Chair Julie McCulloch sponsored and championed the amendment, which failed 7-4 including a ‘no’ vote from McCulloch herself.
“If the action taken by the SIPOA Board during its Dec. 10 board meeting concerning the community gardens is a reflection of today’s Seabrook Island community, I want no part of it.
“The proposal was simple. It was a small modification to the recently accepted rules for the community garden plots. The motion was to grandfather in a long-time gardener who no longer qualified to have a garden plot because of the new rules.
This would correct an oversight by those who drafted them.
“Board members were aware that this individual was a 78-year-old Black lady who had enjoyed her garden for 14 years. At one point, the wording of the amendment was changed to make it absolutely clear this would grandfather only this one individual and have no other impact on the new rules. How could what appeared to be a simple motion warrant taking up nearly half of the December Board meeting?
“On the day following the Board meeting, the Environmental Committee voted unanimously to send this motion back to the SIPOA Board again for consideration and approval during their January meeting. This should allow time for any remaining questions to be investigated as well as a full understanding of the motion and hopefully will be a true reflection of the Seabrook Island community,” read parts of an email reaction from Seabrook resident Charles Moore. The email was used by the Island Connection with permission.
Asked what precipitated establishing rules in the first place, SIPOA COO Heather Paton told the IC in an email; “In the past there had been no formal documentation of the SIPOA garden plot rules and requirements…The goal was to create a document that addresses garden practices, and establishes equitable and appropriate processes to address problems/concerns, and also includes a financial component to compensate SIPOA for some operating expenses.”
Asked if the board president proposed the amendment, Paton said, “Yes. The wording of the original motion was vague and as written would have allowed anyone who is currently a gardener to continue to use the gardens even if they no longer reside or own property on Seabrook Island in the future.
“The revised motion was an effort to make the original motion more consistent with the guidelines/rules. ‘Plot holders who were not property owners on Aug. 20, 2018 are allowed to continue to tend their plot under the conditions set forth herein. This exemption is valid only if said persons’ Property Owner(s) remains in good standing, and shall expire upon termination of said persons’ renter status within the SID as of that date.’ The motion was defeated by a vote of 7/4.”
Paton also said, “The Board is trying to resolve this while also abiding by the guidelines/rules requirement that the garden group, Environmental Committee and Board approved. There are currently 21 property owners on the waiting list for garden plots. The Board is actively working to try to develop a method to accommodate this non-owner in a way other than an individual exception to the Guidelines. An exception would accommodate one individual at the present time, but it doesn’t solve the ultimate issue because another exception request could arise again in the future. The Board plans to discuss this again.”
Johnson’s garden, meanwhile, has gone fallow. “I was afraid to do anything to it. I didn’t want to make trouble, but I’ve been so upset and Lynn Kennedy told me; ‘just go work in your garden’. That garden means everything to me. I love gardening, being around people, and sharing what I know,” says Johnson, who was raised on a farm in North Carolina. “When you see somebody that needs help, you help! That’s how I was raised.”