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Newton Man Vows To Fight City Hall Over Hanging Tomato Plants

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NEWTON (CBS) – There’s an old folk song that says, “There’s only two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”

For one Newton man, it’s the tomatoes that may cause him a problem.

Eli Katzoff thought he had a great idea.

He hung 34 upside-down tomato plants in his yard, planning to give most of the produce away to local food pantries. He built a large wooden structure to hold the plants. It measures 13 feet high by 32 feet long and 16-feet wide.

“The city’s not happy about it,” he says.

The structure he built is in the front yard, and Newton bylaws say you can’t do that.

“You can do it in the back yard, but the problem with us is there’s no sunlight in the backyard,” says Katzoff.

The irony for Eli is that he says he called the zoning office at Newton City Hall before he built the structure and spoke with a woman there.

“She kind of explained to us over and over that what we’re doing is fine. A day after it was up, bright and early, the city shows up and says, ‘hey, you have to take this down,’” says Katzoff.

The city of Newton has two concerns.

“They need to be safe, and they need to be within the zoning ordinances,” says Bob Rooney, the city’s Chief Operating Officer.

The hanging garden is still there, on the tiny front yard, right next to the sidewalk.

The city worries that could be a safety concern for people walking by, not to mention there’s the law that says no structures on front yards, so no swing sets, trampolines or sheds.

But on Tuesday the city struck a more conciliatory tone saying Eli can apply for a zoning variance that would allow the structure to remain.

“If it’s unsafe he could be directed to take it down immediately. If it’s not unsafe he can keep it up until the process takes its’ course,” says city COO Rooney.

It’s apparently a long process to ask for a variance, but Eli says he’ll do what he has to in order to keep his garden.

“We hope they’re going to come around to the idea as well, and they’ll realize there are much bigger problems in Newton to deal with than a tomato plant garden in the front yard,” says Katzoff.

For those wondering why Katzoff doesn’t he just put the plants in the ground, or lower the structure, Katzoff says he can’t lower the structure because the plants will grow downward about 6 feet and there are other plants in the ground, which is why he built up to begin with.

Even if he wanted to plant in-ground tomatoes, there’s just not much room in the tiny yard, another reason for going up. The city says it will contact Eli to see if they can work something out.

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