Council gives thumbs-up to community garden at Porter Park

Lebanon residents who haven’t had space to plant gardens will be able to exercise their green thumbs this spring at Porter Park.

The City Council approved an agreement Wednesday night, Jan. 9, with Master Gardener Sheryl Casteen, who has volunteered her time to oversee the new Porter Park Community Garden and events.

The park has approximately 50 in-ground and above-ground plots, including four that are accessible to those with disabilities.

“It’ll be for the next growing season,” Jason Williams, maintenance services director, told Lebanon Local. “We started this discussion probably three years ago with a community meeting.”

The idea found a home at Porter Park, 2240 Porter St., land that came to Lebanon as a parks donation years ago, Williams said. It remained bare until the Russell Drive project last year.

Coinciding with that project, the city extended utilities, brought in fill material to bring it to grade, built beds and added lighting.

The result is a group of garden beds ready to plant, Williams said. The city will use mulch created from the leaves in its annual leaf pickup program.

The beds will be available for rent to any resident living inside the city’s urban growth boundary, Williams said. The rent will be in the $35 to $50 range on an annual basis, but it hasn’t been set yet.

It is open to everyone, Williams said, so the city will create a tiered system allowing residents to volunteer their time as an offset to the rental fee.

Williams suspects the garden may prove popular. Casteen has been offering classes to potential gardeners, and she has had to add two classes to meet the demand.

“Having somebody with her expertise and experience is going to be fantastic for us,” said Councilor Jason Bolen, moving to approve the Porter Park coordinator agreement.

“Thank you for all your work on that,” Mayor Paul Aziz told Williams. “The garden’s looking great, and I know Sheryl has been in on this since the beginning, and she was excited about it when we told her about it. I think she’s the right person to do it.”

“Her effort has made it possible for us to even do it, to manage all those garden plots and rentals,” Williams told the council.

“The next item I’m excited about is our new Porter Park Community Garden, which we’re expecting to ramp up this spring,” said City Manager Gary Marks during his monthly report to the council.

“I think this is going to be a great addition for not only for this community but that specific neighborhood.

“That’s a neighborhood that has needed some assistance in joining the prosperity of the rest of the community. If you go out there now, you already see some of the effects on the private properties that are positive for what’s gone on there with the garden and the street projects, which are adjacent to it.”

Details for reserving a plot will be available later.

Present at the council meeting were  Aziz and councilors Bolen, Robert Furlow, Rebecca Grizzle, Wayne Rieskamp, Karin Stauder and Michelle Steinhebel.

In other business:

♦ City Clerk Linda Kaser administered the oath of office to incumbents Aziz and Rieskamp and to newly elected councilors Stauder and Steinhebel.

Heard a report from the Lebanon Downtown Association and a request for financial support for its Main Street Manager, a part-time position held by recently hired Cassie Cruz.

The position is a key in Lebanon’s designation in the national Main Street Network as a “transforming downtown,” which helps Lebanon draw on state resources, said Yvette Meyer, the new president of the association. With the designation comes branding and marketing opportunities that benefit the city and downtown.

The association focuses on economic development, city planning, historic preservation, public art, downtown beautification, small business development, marketing, tourism and more, Meyer said. Downtown has maybe one or two empty buildings right now where three years ago, at least three buildings were empty on her block, the 600 block.

In 2018, downtown business startups totaled more than $500,000 with more than 50 employees, Meyer said.

“It is critical that the City Council and the City of Lebanon support the Main Street effort,” Meyer said. LDA has had tremendous success with First Fridays, Concerts in the Park and the Wine Walk, but they don’t generate enough funding for LDA to continue to keep a Main Street manager on a part-time basis.

The LDA is asking the city to consider providing $25,000 per year, said past president Dala Johnson, who remains a member of the board.

Grants do not pay for administrative costs, Johnson said. “In order for LDA to continue and survive and keep with the Main Street program, we have to have at least a part-time Main Street manager, and that has been very, very tough. Time and time again, you have been very generous to LDA. We hope that you see the importance of the partnership that LDA and the City of Lebanon have and that we can continue that partnership.”

The city provided a one-time amount of $10,000 to LDA last year, Aziz said. In talking to other mayors, “it’s a surprising amount” cities are putting into their downtown associations.

“You guys have come a long way, and you have done so much,” Grizzle said. “I want to be able to say why are we putting $50,000 into the downtown association and not funding (the director) at the chamber. We fund the chamber in a roundabout way, but we don’t do that specifically. I just need to be able to justify that. We need to have that discussion.”

Bolen echoed Grizzle’s comment: “I think the need is there, and I think the council as a whole is very supportive of the LDA and what you guys have done, what you’ve accomplished and where you’re going. This needs to come as a proposal for the Budget Committee, with a very well-defined plan of action, with some sustainable financial processes laid out of how we’re going to make this work.

“You’re a fantastic nonprofit, but our city is full of fantastic nonprofits too, so it’s got to be a fair and equitable process all the way through.”

Bolen said he would be open to a council discussion prior to the budget process in the spring, and Stauder said she would like to see comparisons to other communities, and Rieskamp said it would be good information as the city moves into the budget season.