LOWELL, Mich. -- A community garden in Kent County is at the center of controversy on Tuesday after some residents are complaining it’s not abiding by city ordinances. But the couple behind it says it’s a positive attribute to the neighborhood and they’re not doing anything wrong.
The issue surrounding the Help Yourself Garden dominated public comment at the Lowell City Commission meeting, despite not being on the agenda. A majority showed their support for the garden, but a letter the couple received from the city could mean that the support doesn't matter.
It’s been a project of Laura Huth-Rhoades and her husband Tom Rhoades since they moved to Lowell last year, a community garden where neighbors can come and go as they please, taking what they need or sharing what they don’t.
"This is just our way of living our faith," said Laura.
"When we saw this parkway out here and checked the codes, we thought, 'Wow, think of all the people that we can help and feed putting this out here," " said Laura. "So, we made sure that city code supported it. We contacted the city, and the ordinance they gave us showed that no permissions were necessary and that, in fact, alternative gardens like this are promoted in the city."
But a letter from the city of Lowell last Thursday said the Help Yourself Garden violated a city zoning ordinance, calling it an 'unkempt garden' that violated the original agreement for "ground cover only." They were given 20 days to remove the garden.
According to Laura and Tom, a neighbor ahd complained about the increased traffic on the road and the appearance of the garden.
"We’re a bit confused," said Laura. "This is a public street, so anyone who drives by can drive on the street, and this garden isn’t actually unkempt, so we don’t understand what the problem is.”
Laura says she’s working on the garden nearly 12 hours a week and has help from people like 11-year-old Ada Lee Smith.
"I wanted to help because this is an awesome thing and I like helping people out," said Ada.
At the city commission meeting on Tuesday, the council heard from the neighbors who are upset about the garden.
"We’re all for the idea of giving, we do it every weekend when we attend church," said Joshua Webb. "Our thing is the fact that we have 3- and 6-year-old little girls; there’s been increased traffic. We’re for the garden, we just don’t think the location is ideal.”
Other residents disagreed.
"It's made a positive impact and gave us a way to interact with our neighbors," said one resident.
"This garden is exactly what Lowell is," said another resident.
"When you live on a public road, you can't control the people that come down it," said another resident, speaking to the neighbors who made the initial complaint.
Laura says they have plenty of support for the garden and will do whatever they can to keep it running.
"I’m not going to let that stop us from feeding people and making a better community," said Laura.
There’s no word yet on what’s going to happen with the garden. Laura says she’s going to do whatever they can to keep it, since she believes they’re following all of the city’s rules.
She also says the city manager came up with a few ideas as far as what to do with the garden, like moving it to another location, for one, but she says those ideas were never discussed with her.