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The city vows to upgrade two overlooked Inner Southeast parks -- and makes plans

DAVID F. ASHTON - Although the move is not yet set in stone, the Errol Heights Community Garden, with spring crops already growing, is slated to be moved south - to make way for a new road alignment next year. At the April meeting of the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association (BDNA) meeting on Monday evening, April 5, improvements to two parks and the relocation of a community garden were the agenda topics that brought 48 people to their Community Center.

"So many have asked us to bring it back, so we're happy to announce the return of the 'BDNA Bulky Waste Clean-up' on May 5, from 9 a.m. until the drop boxes are full in the early afternoon," announced the neighborhood's Chair, Chelsea Powers. Neighbors from Woodstock are welcome to take advantage of it too, she said.

"Because of the Metro and City of Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability rules, we can't accept commercial loads, toxic waste or building materials, including remodeling and demolition materials, at our cleanup – held again in the parking lot of the Learning Garden Lab, 6801 S.E. 60th Avenue," Power remarked, suggesting checking their website for more information – www.brentwood-darlington.org

The featured speaker of the evening, Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees Portland Parks & Recreation (PPL&R), brought news of improvements to Hazeltine Park, and changes to Errol Heights Park.

The cost to create Hazeltine Park, acquired in 2001, was greatly reduced thanks to in-kind donations, but the park has remained primarily a rolling, grassy open space since its opening. But, over the summer, PP&R will be installing a "Nature Patch" – a brand-new program of Bureau. "It's a natural, sustainable garden that will improve the horticultural diversity and the ecological health of the park," explained PP&R "Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Program" Coordinator Eric Rosewall.

In addition to providing "pockets" of native plants, flowering ornamental plants, and habitat trees, the project includes making the picnic area "ADA accessible", Rosewall told THE BEE before the meeting. "And, we'll have a 'Nature Spot' for kids, with small natural features for them to explore and hang out on and climb."

During the meeting, long-time parks proponent Gail Kiely asked Commissioner Fritz why a more substantial play structure isn't planned for Hazeltine Park, along with the natural areas – especially if neighbors raise funds to add one.

"The challenge we face is, as a Bureau, don't have the capacity," Fritz replied. "There are a lot of needs everywhere, including in this neighborhood, and we're making the investment in nearby Errol Heights Park as a 'down payment', if you will. I agree that, over time, a play structure at Hazeltine Park is necessary."

Chair Powers said that raising money is the issue, the BDNA is willing to partner with other neighborhoods with projects "on the list" ahead of Hazeltine Park.

"We don't say no to money," Fritz replied with an enthusiastic smile. "We know you care about parks, because you're willing to fund raise for what you want. But, the challenge is, we just don't have the ongoing staff to be able to do that," Fritz commented, and asked interested people to participate in a long-range planning discussion.

Community Garden to be moved

The commissioner said that she knew one of the major issues of interest to the neighborhood was "moving" the Errol Heights Community Garden from its present location, due Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) plans to connect S.E. Tenino Court to S.E. Tenino Drive as part of the Errol Heights Street Improvement Project.

Responding to questions such as "Is it feasible to move the garden, or is it a waste of money?" the Fritz recounted her memories of the garden's grand opening. "I admire the people who put in the time and effort into getting the community garden going; however, it was always intended that that garden might not stay there."

PP&R Community Engagement Representative Barbara Hart chimed in, "We are just launching the project to improve Errol Heights Park. The garden is in the location that has worked for it for the last seven years; but, moving forward, it is in a very difficult place for the overall improvements that we want to make to this park."

Within the boundaries of the three acre park, "flat space" for soccer fields, restrooms, picnic shelters, and lawn, are in short supply, Hart pointed out. "Thus, 'moving' the garden south, so it isn't cut off from the rest of the park by S.E. Tenino Court, is a good option."

"A good thing about the park is that, in 2005, a Park Master Plan was created; part of this Master Plan actually moves the road to create as much 'park space' as they could, in the future," commented PP&R Project Manager George Lozovoy "And, where we fell short in 2006 was in not vacating the existing road right-or-way away and dedicating the new right-of-way that was in the Master plan," Lozovoy admitted. "We got busy, things slipped – but it makes sense to move the road out of the way, considering such criteria as function, safety, cost, and aesthetics."

Plans for improving Errol Heights Park are far from finalized, the officials emphasized. The first meeting of the project's Advisory Committee is on Wednesday, May 23, 7 to 9 p.m., in the Woodstock Community Center.

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