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Lawson gardens, fracking ban— Council reaches for authority

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Several Village Council members expressed regret during their meeting on Monday, Sept. 17, that they have not found a way to preserve all the gardens at the Lawson Place residences. Earlier in the month the Village had drafted an ordinance requiring a permit to remove the private landscaping that property owner Greene Metropolitan Housing Authority says must be removed by Oct. 1. But on further review of the draft, Council members acknowledged that the ordinance did not apply to the entire village and therefore was not enforceable at Lawson Place alone.

“The legislation is not something we can stand behind legally,” Council President Judith Hempfling said during Monday’s meeting. “But Lori [Askeland] and I will continue to try to find avenues by which we can influence this decision.”

Many of the residents of Lawson Place have been fighting to preserve their garden spaces since Greene Met began enforcing a limit on plantings in June. According to housing authority director Brenda Smallwood, Greene Met prefers “controlled” plantings to make mowing easier, reduce building damage, and enforce by policy rather than by individual case. Greene Met also contends that controlled landscaping will help ensure its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (though HUD officials previously told the News that the federal agency favors gardens and allows the housing authorities to decide where they should be located.)

Several villagers at Monday’s meeting reiterated their strong belief in the therapeutic and healing effects the gardens and gardening activity have on the lives of Lawson Place residents. Joan Horn read a testimony describing the positive impact the gardens have had on residents’ mental and physical health, as well as supporting cooperation and community life. Vickie Hennessy and Terri Adoff both expressed frustration with working with Greene Met, and Ellis Jacobs supported Council’s continued attempts to find ways to influence authorities to respect the rights of the residents.

“Many people in the community think that what they’re [Greene Met] doing flies in the face of everything we say we want — that it’s telling folks not to take ownership in their homes,” Jacobs said. If the agency continues, “they’ll see all kinds of unhappiness in the community, including civil disobedience, which is letting them know that many people in the community take this that seriously.”

Lawson resident Kathy Crew stated that she had lived at the complex for 11 years, and had personally invested a good deal of time and money in improving her property. Others had done the same, she said, including resident Daniel Pearson, who after working furiously for several days to move his plants before Oct. 1, died last week in his home.
“He worked himself to death,” Crew said. “He gave his life for that garden.”

Council members agreed to continue to research ways to influence the decision and help Lawson Place residents to retain control of their properties. Council member Karen Wintrow suggested that areas to consider were fair housing law and ADA regulations regarding the therapeutic effects of gardening.

“Time is short,” Lawson resident Marilyn Van Eaton said. “They’re already taking out mature, beautiful plants. It’s happening right now.”

In other Village Council business:
• Council members briefly discussed potential legislation banning commercial gas and oil extraction and injection wells within the village limits, but tabled the discussion for a future meeting. Earlier this month Village attorneys reviewed the draft legislation and recommended including not just corporations but also “person or persons” in the group that would be banned from drilling activity.

Villager Dimi Reber, a member of the local Gas and Oil Drilling Awareness and Education group, argued that the addition made the legislation “less defensible” because the document later states that a corporation is not a person and therefore does not have the same rights as a person.

Council members agreed to take more time to consider the issue and will take it up at a later date.
More on the Council meeting will appear in next week’s News.


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