Community Garden At Center Of Dispute Between Palermo Couple And American Legion Post 

A community garden in Palermo is at the center of a dispute between a local couple and the American Legion Post.Master gardener Connie Belet and her husband Phil White Hawk have been steadily building the community garden just off the Turner Ridge Road in Palermo over the last 14 years. It’s the main source of produce for the Palermo food pantry.”Anybody in the community or surrounding communities is welcome to come over and we have a split equity arrangement where if you work for an hour in the garden, you can pick anything you want or need,” Bellet said.The land the garden sits on is owned by the Malcolm Glidden American Legion Post 163, which sits a few hundred feet away from the garden. Phil White Hawk was a member of the legion, but he was kicked out a few years ago. “We’ve been at odds now for some time,” White Hawk said. “They don’t like us because they call us subversives. They don’t like the people we serve who are needy people.”Last month, the legion sent a letter, signed by Legion Commander Clayton York, to Bellet and White Hawk ordering them to clear the garden and sheds to make room for more legion parking. They were given until September 2. According to the letter, “Any structure not moved will be moved by the legion.”But, Bellet and White Hawk lease the land from the legion for $1, an agreement reached in 1999, and that lease is paid for through 2020. The legion tried unsuccessfully to void the lease in 2011, but a judge sided with Bellet and White Hawk.”So now they have decided to disregard the judge’s ruling and disregard the judge’s findings and proceed on their own,” White Hawk said.Clayton York refused to comment for this story on the advice of his attorney.The folks who utilize the garden say, if it’s additional parking the legion needs, there’s no need to destroy their garden to get it. They want to know why the American Legion won’t simply utilize all of the land located right next to the garden, that is also owned by the legion and sits unused and in closer proximity to the legion building than the garden. According to the legion’s website, paid enrollment at post 163 has dwindled from 53 members in 2012 to just 28 now.Bellet and White Hawk say if the bulldozers actually show up, they’ll let them destroy their garden, but they’re ready to file a lawsuit against the legion. The couple’s attorney, Robert Marks, said in a letter addressed to Legion Commander Clayton York:”Should you follow through on your threat to to remove the shed and the garden, there will be a lawsuit initiated by us, against the Post and all individuals involved, claiming breach of contract, destruction of personal property, trespass, intentional infliction of mental distress and harassment.. Damages claimed, if granted, will likely make my clients the owner of your land and buildings and will put your own and others’ personal assets at risk.” Bellet and White Hawk say they’re hoping for a peaceful resolution to this ongoing conflict.Attempts to contact Clayton York’s attorney were unsuccessful.