In Longmont, community garden sprouts controversy

LONGMONT - Dan Nelson didn't think to ask city officials for permission when he started picking up trash and flood debris that had gathered along his daily walk to a local coffee shop from his Quail Ridge home.

Every day that Nelson walked by the piles with his nieces and nephews, he would stop and fill up a bucket with whatever trash he could collect.

"I felt good about it every time I did it," Nelson said.

Soon, the trash was gone and Nelson decided the weed-covered ground at the corner of Main Street and Quail road could use some more work.

The next time he walked by, he brought a shovel and a hoe and began removing the weeds in the dirt.

Once that was done, he planted flowers around the pillars of a sign announcing the Longmont Rec Center down the street.

This was in late February. People started to smile at the changes they saw, Nelson said.

Now, in mid-April, the once-bare ground is cultivated and pristine, filled with an edible garden and a raised wooden vegetable bed sprouting seeds of lettuce, kale and herbs.

Nelson says there still more work he'd like to do, but now there's a problem.

The garden sits on city property, not Nelson's. And Nelson never asked the city if he could plant there.

"It occurred to me, but I thought I was doing such a good thing. I was just pulling weeds and trying to make it better," Nelson said. "I never started out planning on building an elaborate garden, but I was kind of motivated by the support of the people who, all of a sudden, started talking to me, and coming up to me, and telling me what a great thing it was, and how much they liked it."

Last Friday, Nelson says workers from Longmont's parks department noticed him tending to the garden.

Nelson says eventually the head of the city's parks department told him he had to move the garden by April 25, or the city would get rid of it.

"I was angry at that point because I really care about it by now, I love gardening and I love my plants. I grew up on a farm. I stormed off kind of and I was pretty upset," Nelson said.

City of Longmont spokesperson Rigo Leal said Thursday he could not confirm whether Nelson was ever given an ultimatum on removing the plants.

Leal said the city is working directly with Nelson and his family to come to an "amicable agreement," which does not involve forcibly removing the garden.

Leal did cite safety concerns with the garden's location on a heavily-trafficked street corner.

"He didn't tell anybody he was going to do it or seek out any permission," Leal said. "Now we're trying to figure out what the next steps are. It looks nice, he put a lot of work into it. We want to find a way to honor all the work he's done, and make sure people know to follow the rules."

Leal said the city is considering "everything" at this point, and there was no hard deadline on removal.

"If we were going to follow the letter of law, I guess we could do that [forcibly remove the plants], but we're trying to do what's right," Leal said.

In the meantime, Nelson says he will continue tending to his plants and vegetables.

"I don't believe you need permission from the city if you're just trying to make the world better," Nelson said.

Although he did add, "I'll be really sad if they move it. It is what it is, and at least for a month or so a lot of people got some joy from it. At least they told me they did. I know I did too."

Leal said the City of Longmont is working with FEMA on a long-term plan to repair and restore the more than $150 million in damages from last September's floods.

Leal also said the city welcomes community members who want to beautify a public space, as long as they get approval through Public Works and Natural Resources before beginning a project.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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