By Midge Pierce

Plants and flower pots are soon due to replace children and frisbees on a quarter of Mt. Tabor’s so-called Long Block between Lincoln and Harrison east of 60th St., but residents accustomed to the open field in front of their houses want to can the so-called can yard.

The cans, a part of the horticulture program at the adjacent Portland Parks Maintenance Yard.

At a community meeting at the Western Seminary, Yard representatives explained that the plants need to be transferred in order to undertake much-needed structural improvements and repairs at the Yard. Decades of sub-par buildings and work conditions require immediate attention.

Residents, many of whom have suffered a year and a half of disruptive construction associated with the disconnection of Mt. Tabor’s historic reservoirs, raised concerns about increases of truck traffic transporting the plants. Officials assured they would be minimal.

Heat rose over the loss of public open space left by the removal of a tree nursery several years ago. Plan objectors said the fencing required to secure the pots, violates the integrity of the Mt. Tabor Master Plan.

According to PPR, the Long Block was not included in the scope of the 2000 Master Plan. A 2008 update established a community garden at the eastern end of the property.  The flatness of the lot that makes it attractive to families also makes it attractive to developers.

John Laursen, a volunteer who is part of a citizen watchdog group that stopped the City from selling off the Maintenance Yard several years ago, warned that if the Long Block does not have an official use, it could be declared surplus property and sold for development. Laursen cited the fate of a demolished former reservoir that is now a senior complex at 60th and Division.

“Saving land can be a constant battle,” he said. “When someone in City Hall wants to sell city land, it’s hard to stop. Since neighbors don’t want another sell-off, adding infrastructure like this (can yard) can help protect the land.”

Wariness that a sell-off could happen again is exacerbated by belt tightening that could impact another aspect of Mt. Tabor Park.

The City Budget Office has proposed cutting off funds, promised by City Council in a binding resolution in 2015, to be spent on restoration of the Park’s remaining reservoirs, historic structures long overdue for preservation.

Laursen, also part of a group that negotiated the reservoir preservation package, calls the structures iconic resources for all Portlanders. “The CBO assertion that Council should break its promise and withhold funding is appalling. It’s like a drive-by shooting.”

Like the Park, the Long Block’s history goes back more than a century. From the early 1900s it had a horticultural use. In 1912, it became a tree nursery based on “good soils and its southern exposure”.

Lush long block due for a makeover

One resident pointed out the irony of replacing what was, until 2014, a tree nursery with a plant nursery. Parks Representative Maija Spencer explained the trees were removed and reseeded with grass in 2014 due to budget reductions.

Another attendee called the loss of a portion of the flat grassy, open space “death by a thousand cuts”. Others objected that the can yard would be fenced until someone pointed out that the community garden is fenced as well.

Said citizen committee member Nancy Norby, “It will be pretty. We’ll make sure.”

Construction on the can yard is scheduled for 2018.