Kearney neighbors furious over destruction of neighborhood garden

Lot's owner says it's been a misunderstanding
Posted at 6:27 PM, May 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-19 19:36:14-04

Many consider the Brook Haven subdivision in Kearney Mr. Robertson’s neighborhood. Unfortunately many neighbors would rather be on Sesame Street following the destruction of a neighborhood garden.

A 74-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood told 41 Action News he had an agreement with Jim Robertson, a local developer, to plant a community garden on one of his vacant lots. The man, who requested to stay anonymous, was therefore extremely disappointed to see a small tractor destroying his garden this past Tuesday evening.

Neighbors who supported the 74-year-old man with his garden endeavor were just as stunned.

Joe Hickey called the developer “a bully.”

Bryan Smith lives next door and also saw the tractor demolishing his friend’s garden.

"Garden was great. We had great radishes coming in, onions, cabbage,” he said. "He even thought about hiring some kids to come pull weeds to give them a garden experience."

Photo of the garden before it was removed

The garden before it was removed. Photo courtesy Bryan Smith

Hickey noted that many neighbors have been frustrated with Robertson for many years, mostly because of the un-kept lots the developer owns. Therefore, they feel the garden demolition was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

When 41 Action News pulled up to one of Robertson’s nearby lots Friday afternoon, many weeds stood 2-3 feet in height. Anything over 7 inches is against city code.

"We had weeds five, six foot tall behind us at one point. We had to have the fire department come put them out because kids lit them on fire,” said Hickey.

Whether in regards to the high weeds next door or the brush pile left at the garden site, 41 Action News called the City of Kearney to see if any letters or citations have been delivered to Robertson or his company. They said there haven’t been. They would also not comment on the garden, stating they look at it as a “private issue.”

Minutes after speaking with the city, Robertson was spotted by neighbors mowing the tall weeds on the vacant lot adjacent to Smith and Hickey’s homes.

Robertson declined an in-person interview, but 41 Action News was able to reach him over the phone.

The developer initially denied any ownership to the garden lot.

"I don't own the lot. I'm not the owner of the lot,” Robertson said over the phone.

According to the county, the garden lot, and nearby vacant lots on the block, are owned by DCL Tract LLC. Kansas records show Robertson on the most recent annual report for the business.

“We see it's owned by DCL Tract LLC. Is that you or your son’s company?” asked 41 Action News reporter Josh Helmuth.

"Not me. Not his company,” he replied.

Seconds later, Robertson reversed his statement.

"Where the garden is, is on a lot that I own,” he said. "[anonymous] talked to me about the garden, yeah."

Robertson also admitted it was his son, the lot’s builder, who had the garden demolished.

"It was one of his contractors,” he said.

Photo after garden was removed

Brush covers the dirt where the garden had been. Photo courtesy Bryan Smith

Robertson then told 41 Action News that the garden has been a misunderstanding, saying that he allowed the garden to be planted until the lot was ready for a build. He said the lot has now been sold and that his son had to clear the lot in order to prepare it for a new home.

The City of Kearney told 41 Action News they haven’t received a building permit for the vacant lot yet.

The city also claims they haven’t received any complaints from Robertson’s properties until this week and have now asked the developer to clean up his vacant lots, including the brush pile that was left at the site of the garden.

Neighbors are still hoping for a simple solution.

"Let him have his garden back,” said Hickey. “It doesn't hurt nobody. Looks nice. Not filled with garbage. Doesn't look like a landfill."