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No more gardens for Burmese at Fort Wayne apartment complex

City, Autumn Woods looking for solutions for residents

Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

Burmese residents living in Autumn Woods, 1004 Fayette Drive, will no longer be able to grow their own vegetables behind their apartments.

Due to a large number of citations from the city in 2012 to the management company, residents were told no more gardens were allowed and their plots were removed last fall.

Current management at Autumn Woods was asked to comment but said it was not at liberty to do so at this time.

According to Cindy Joyner, of Fort Wayne Neighborhood Code, a large portion of the gardens were built in ditches, which is against city code, because it can block water flow. The department also found pieces of indoor furniture, which had been re-purposed for use in the gardens, which also is against city code. There was a lot of debris including animal cages that were also found in the ditch, another code violation.

"It was the amount of debris that really drove the citations,” said John Urbahns, director of Fort Wayne's Community Development department.

Urbahns said the city has these codes in place to protect the values of the adjoining property.

John Perlich, city spokesman, said the city took a closer look at Autumn Woods after some concerns about the condition of the property had been raised in the community.

Some of the items that were removed from the complex were small swimming pools that had been donated to the residents through a program at the Catherine Kasper Place to be used as container gardens.

“Some of these were removed because they were not being used as functioning garden spaces; they had been left to deteriorate,” Joyner said.

The citations were made in September, the end of the growing season.

“We actually made a conscious decision to work with the property owner so they were able to harvest whatever came out of those gardens. You know, we really did try and work with the property owner to try and come to some satisfactory conclusion on this,” Joyner said.

Said Urbahns, “The redevelopment commission owns acreage behind Autumn Woods, they have said they will make that property available, they made it available last year to utilize, but if there is going to be gardening done, it needs to be done in a proper manner.”

Urbahns admitted that there is really no code on the books as to what a proper garden is but said, for example, the urban gardens on Calhoun Street built at the former Catherine Kasper Place offices, are done in a manner that is contained and well done. The upkeep is the only requirement. If a garden is built it must be maintained so it does not become a blight on the adjacent properties. Part of the discussion between the city and the apartment complex, according to Urbahns and Joyner, was just who would be responsible for the installation of water and fencing. Some people at their initial meeting had suggested the fencing as a way of containing the gardens.

Urbahns said there has been no discussion as to if the parties who put in the property improvements would or would not be compensated should the property be taken back by the city to use for a different purpose.

“The commission zoned it for 20-plus years and there hasn't been interest in developing it so, it's something we would have to explore as some sort of an agreement,” Urbahns said.

Perlich said, “The city of Fort Wayne continues to be engaged in discussions with Autumn Woods Apartments to reach a positive solution for all parties involved. Our conversations are centered on working out the details of the construction of a fence and shed near the complex in order for the Burmese residents to garden. We're a welcoming and diverse community and are committed to continuing our great working relationship with the Burmese and the agencies and organizations that assist the Burmese. We're confident we'll be able to reach an agreement that will work for the City, the apartment complex, the Burmese residents and our neighborhoods.”

Holly Chaille, executive director of the Catherine Kasper Place, said her staff and volunteers have helped the Burmese to build their own garden plots and although CKP has a community garden, it is not at that location. Chaille said many of the Burmese who were growing food in those gardens were getting 50 to 70 percent of their fresh produce from them.

Chaille said people are more likely to take advantage of a garden when it is right out their back door. Chaille said that a lot of these people are struggling to survive and the gardens provided them with fresh food they could otherwise not afford.

“I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the situation at Autumn Woods related to gardening. Over the last several years Catherine Kasper Place has had the privilege of working with the Burmese community living in Autumn Woods, in a variety of ways including container gardening,” Chaille said.

To date Chaille said they have assisted with the installation of 80 such gardens, 22 plant stands, more than 1,200 seedlings, seeds and supplies to encourage container gardening in the complex.

“I am not privy to the discussion between the complex and the city, but am hopeful that both parties can collaborate to find a solution. CKP stands ready to assist efforts to resolve this issue so that our Burmese neighbors can continue to grow food for themselves, their families, and others in the community.” Chaille said.