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Green Gate Farms works to stay as plans for new development sprout up

Since March, the owners of Green Gate Farms and their supporters had been concerned about the future of the organic farm in East Austin.

The farm sits on a portion of the 250 acres purchased earlier this year by Roberts Resorts, an Arizona-based manufactured home developer that planned to build a gated complex for luxury RVs and manufactured homes, according to the farm’s owners. The farm was not featured in those plans, raising concerns that it would be razed altogether.

But on Tuesday, the farm’s owners announced that after months of angst, they were working with the developer to determine how the 113-year-old community-based organic farm would fit into the new development.

“Until yesterday it didn’t look very good because we couldn’t agree on how big this farm needs to be,” said Skip Connett, one of the farm’s owners. “It took a while for us to build some common ground.”

On Monday, Scott Roberts, the chairman of Roberts Resorts, met with the owners of the farm and the two sides laid out a road map for the farm’s future. Roberts agreed to give the farm a new three-year lease after its current lease runs out in August and to work with an independent consultant to see if the farm, as it stands today, is the best option going forward.

They also agreed to explore a “conservation easement,” through which a nonprofit land trust would buy the rights to the future use of the land from the developer. The deal, which would be brokered by the city, would not be a land purchase, but it would guarantee that the land could only be used for the designated purpose of farming.

Roberts, who attended the news conference on Tuesday, said he was still getting familiar with the property his business purchased in March and that plans for the farm’s future were still in their “beginning stages.” But he said he was open to the idea of including the farm as part of the plans and wanted the new development to be “one of the most unique and forward-thinking” in Austin.

The farm, which Connett and his wife, Erin Flynn, have run since 2006, has strong ties to the community. It provides locally grown, organic produce to nearby low-income residents in an area that is considered a “food desert.” Through its nonprofit branch, the New Farm Institute, the farm also hosts a community garden and runs job-training programs for teens.

Independent consultants will still need to determine what changes, if any, should be made to the farm, but the farm’s supporters are already proactively trying to save specific parts of the farm. The farm has started a “Big Red Barn” oral history project to save the 113-year-old barn that was part of the original farm, which belonged to Austin’s Bergstrom family, for which the airport is named.

The barn, which has been used by creative elites like Matthew McConaughey and the Coen Brothers, is central to several of the farm’s programs, and the farm’s supporters are hoping the community’s support will help keep it intact.

“It’s one of the biggest icons of this farm, and we think it’s worth saving,” said Alex Connett, daughter of Skip Connett and a farm-based education assistant with the farm’s nonprofit.

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