Church, city at odds over community garden that netted $400 fine

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A local church pastor says the community garden he hoped would help his community turned into a nearly $400 headache after city inspectors cited it for high weeds and grass.

Reverend Joy Thornton will soon celebrate 20 years at the helm of Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church on the city's northeast side. It sits along 38th Street in a food desert, after the nearest grocery story shut down this year.

Thornton told CBS4 Problem Solvers he hoped an expanded garden on a plot behind the church could help alleviate the need for fresh food.

"This year, I planted this whole section," Thornton said. "I just cast (the seeds) out here myself."

The trouble started in September, when the city sent the church a notice of violation, saying "You must cut, mow or otherwise remove tall vegetation."

Thornton said he reached out to an inspector with the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, BNS, but it didn't help.

"I said to the gentleman, 'You need to come out, I’ll show it to you. He didn’t want to do that,'" Thornton said.

BNS officials sent CBS4 Problem Solvers photos they say show the violations. The department summoned Thornton to a hearing, which was at first moved due to his hospitalization, and then scheduled for two days before Thanksgiving. Thornton, busy at the church's soup kitchen, said he missed the hearing and showed up later that day when he realized his mistake.

"I went over, tried to talk to them about it, and the gentleman told me, 'You missed this and ... we don’t have time to be trying to get individuals to come and you don’t show up,'" Thornton said.

The city fined the church $363 for mowing services, a bill that will have to be paid in the coming months.

When CBS4 Problem Solvers visited the plot of land the day after Thornton missed his hearing, we found neighbor Teresa Glenn and family members picking greens from the field, which were still growing despite being mowed over.

"I hope they have it next year," Glenn said of the garden.

Thornton said he hopes to continue the community garden, but came away from his interaction with the city disappointed.

"I would like for them to have mercy and I would like for them to do right by the church. because the church is trying to do right by this community," Thornton said.

A BNS spokesperson sent this statement upon CBS4's request:

"BNS takes great care to respond to community concerns made by citizens in an appropriate timeframe with the upmost discretion. If during our investigation of a reported concern it is discovered that a code violation exists, BNS, in accordance with the Code of Ordinances, will inform the violator (i.e. property owner) of the ordinance violation and the necessary actions to correct the violation so as to come in to compliance with the code. Property owners are given a specified amount of time, depending on the violation, to self-correct the violation prior to a re-inspection by a BNS inspector. If a property owner believes an inspection resulting in a violation was made in error, or if the violation was corrected but a citation was assessed, BNS recommends the property owner contact our office at the phone number and/or email listed on the notice of violation (NOV) received by the property owner and request an inquiry form. A property owner may also request a hearing depending on the type of violation recorded to dispute fees assessed or request an extension to correct the violation."

If you have a problem you'd like CBS4 Problem Solvers to consider, contact us at 317-677-1544 or

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