Residents oppose garden plots at Irby Park

Huntington Beach residents made it clear Monday that they don't want a community garden in the heart of Irby Park.

About 50 residents who live around the park gathered at the Murdy Community Center and told Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw and members of the nonprofit residents group Huntington Beach Community Garden that they would rather see the area revitalized with new walking trails and open green space than with garden plots.

"If the residents want a garden, they're going to have to tell us they want a garden," Shaw said. "Tonight, they didn't tell us that. So that pretty much kills it, so we'll have to find another place for it because the residents really don't want it here. It was pretty loud and clear."

He added that community members voiced strong support for developing the park and incorporating more walkways and other natural features.

"We would like to see something beautiful that improves the community, that would invite more birds and local flora and fauna," said resident Sarah Hendrickson, 33. "We want to see it beautiful, and we feel that the best way to do that would be to create a passive, natural park in the neighborhood instead of having a community garden."

Other residents, including Jim Hoshstrasser, were angry that the city was considering building a community garden without their input.

Annette Parsons, president of the Huntington Beach Community Garden, said volunteers went out and surveyed the residents around Irby Park to gauge the sentiment for a garden.

Hoshstrasser, 61, said no one ever stopped by his home. He added that he has lived next to Irby Park for 32 years and is eager to see it improved.

"I'm home every day and all my neighbors said they were never contacted," he said. "So now there's a sense of 'What ... is going on around here and why weren't we involved in our neighborhood?'"

He added that he visited the existing community garden, located at the Southern California Edison-owned dirt easement off Atlanta Avenue and Brookhurst Street, and found it unimpressive.

"It's hideous to look at, and it's the best use of some bad land," Hoshstrasser said.

Parsons, who was not surprised by the comments, said she wished more of those in the community who supported the idea of a garden would have attended the meeting.

Shaw asked in March if city staff could look into the feasibility of developing a community garden at Irby Park. The council unanimously voted then to have its staff draft a study on what it would cost to build a 2.5-acre community garden with 110 plots that measure 15 by 20 feet. The remaining land would be restored as a passive park.

As it currently stands, only a fraction of the 10.9-acre park is developed — it contains a tot lot and benches. The rest of the space, however, is a dirt lot.

Ideas for building up the park have come and gone for years, but plans never solidified, mainly because of the extensive amount of peat moss in the undeveloped area and the lack of funding, said Dave Dominguez, city facilities, development and concessions manager.

"It's also rather large for a neighborhood park, and usually parks of that size would lend themselves to more of an active-type park," he said.

Neighborhood parks are typically 2 1/2 to 5 acres, according to the city's master plan.

Dominguez added that the cost of developing a park the size of Irby usually runs about $500,000 an acre, which takes into account turf and pavement placement, water irrigation and lighting around walkways. Additionally, engineers need to be hired to draw up a restoration plan.

Dominguez said a plan is necessary to get the ball rolling. With some type of blueprint in place, he said, city officials and volunteer organizations could identify funding sources.

To reduce costs, Shaw suggested in his original community gardens plan that he would bring in the Community Parks Restoration Team, which comprises volunteer groups such as the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and Friends of Shipley Nature Center, to donate their time to restore the park. He said he would be willing to do the same if the Irby Park community wanted the park beautified.

"We've got enough resources to do something with some of these parks like Irby," he said.

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