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Patio Village residents have their say over garden space

Patio Village residents told the Housing Authority of Jackson County Board of Directors at its meeting Wednesday that they want a voice in future projects after they were informed in late August that personal gardens and plantings needed to be removed by Sept. 11 for an upcoming landscape project.

“The problem is the abruptness with this action. Many tenants feel deeply disrespected in the process,” Elizabeth Zwick, who attended the session, said Thursday. “We want assurance of some personal autonomy of the units, particularly the gardening, and a change to how the community is handled in the future.”

A contingent of eight Patio Village residents and four other supporters, including a Talent Garden Club representative and Mayor Darby Stricker, attended the meeting. Residents had given the board a document with their concerns and requests two days earlier and four letters were also submitted by residents.

“We’ve learned a very hard lesson with this. We apologized to the contingent that was there,” said Cara Carter, director of housing projects for the agency. “We should have communicated more. There are steps that we’ll confer about in a timelier manner in the future.”

Grass is being removed as part of the project, which will see drought-tolerant plantings and wood chips installed in an effort to reduce water consumption at the rent-subsidized, 65-unit project. A failing irrigation system is also being replaced.

Carter said the agency and its board will discuss ways to incorporate residents in future decisions. The board did present proposals for community garden space and a dog park within the complex.

In their written proposal, residents asked that they be allowed 100 square feet of outdoor space for individual plantings.

“The point is we all should have our outside space,” said Tina DeCorte, who attended the meeting. “We didn’t get a lot of answers. I think we kind of broadsided them with the proposal. Everyone deserves to have an area around their patio that they can plant in.”

Staff will evaluate residents’ proposals and make recommendations to the board.

“We haven’t denied any of the requests,” said Carter. “We’ll meet with the residents again once we have a chance to look everything over.”

Removal of plantings began Sept. 8, although residents were told they’d have until Sept. 11, Zwick said. Carter said she was unaware of any early removal.

“The contractor was very careful not to take any items without asking,” said Carter. “He’s gone above and beyond what most contractors would do.”

Zwick was allowed to retain a community garden area she shares with four other tenants and was told it would be kept for future use. Some others were also allowed to retain outside plantings. Tenants will be surveyed to determine needs for garden space, and there might be several locations on the campus, said Carter.

Screening vegetation on the side of the project next to Talent Avenue was removed, and the proposed location of some future plantings appears to block exit and entry for some units, said Zwick.

Board member Cate Hartzell proposed meeting with residents over the next couple of weeks to work out issues that will affect the community in the future, including the request for personal outdoor space. There was no board response to her suggestion.

“I think we had an accident here. I don’t think anyone intended for there to be any harm,” Hartzell said Thursday. “Part of the repair should involve communication.”

Residents spoke during the public testimony portion of the meeting. Zwick said she was unhappy that each resident was held to a time limit and that the board members did not respond. Those procedures are normal board policy, Carter said.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.