It’s Not Easy Being Green

Killarney Shamrock_modified_02    This post first appeared March 15, 2013 now published again to celebrate the wearing of the green!

It’s a long way from Lancaster county, PA to Jacksonville, FL, but years ago our family moved into a neighborhood called Killarney Shores with street names like Emerald Isle Circle, Leprechaun Court, and St. Patrick Lane. On the day of Ireland’s famous saint, I give you my story of keeping it green:

The lurid orange zoning sign meant something, stuck ominously at the edge of the woods where our children used to roam freely up and down the deep ravines and along a serpentine creek bordering the neighborhood. I have always loved natural beauty, so it is no surprise that one of the items on the wish list for our next address was “a house on a hill with tall trees.”  A hill with tall trees–a laughable request especially since most of Jacksonville is flat with palm trees bordered by the beach. But our prayer was answered–a huge corner lot with 17 magnificent laurel oak and live oak trees, romantic symbols of the Deep South, nestled in a secret cove just blocks off a busy boulevard.

Yet there was much to fear that November day when I spotted the land use / zoning sign: The memory of the terrorist attack on our nation on September 11, 2001 still overwhelming our minds, our community had to address an encroaching menace much closer to home: Our rural, residential zoning status was being challenged by big box Wal-Mart, who wanted to build a  Super Center (gasp!) in the woods 200-feet from our homes. This would threaten the woods our children had played in, close to the burial site of our family dog, and near a lake by which we moored our canoe, Killarney Queen.

First, we had to find out what was going on. There were trips to the Planning and Development Department downtown with my good buddy Ann. If we are going to fight Goliath, the behemoth of retailers, our tiny neighborhood of 65 homes had to be educated. When we weighed in as opposition during the first City Hall hearing, dozens of residents responded to my hastily printed green fliers, some out of curiosity, some with animosity, but all with concern for the preservation of the quality of life in our secluded neighborhood. I, along with my neighbors, became familiar with a strange new vocabulary:  Land Use Amendment Application, Planned Unit Development, Rezoning Ordinance.

Neighbors opened their doors to strategy-planning meetings, furnishing refreshments and dishing up good-will. Residents from up-the-hill met those from around-the-circle . . . . as we joined hands in consensus. Even our councilwoman joined in, assuring us she would have a decision to develop the rural residential area into commercial uses deferred and deferred and deferred. We hired a City Planner for big bucks to “give us credibility.” On April 11, 2002 we had a showdown with the Walmart bigwigs, their cool, professional presentation countered by our-best-we-could-do foam-core display. Residents packed a school auditorium, wearing shamrock buttons that read “Keep it Green.” My neighbor Richy recently diagnosed with kidney cancer came to show his support. We all listened to Wal-Mart’s company staff show-and-tell session, which extolled the merits of the store to the community, implying the layout would make their 215,000 square-foot presence virtually unobtrusive. However, when our council-woman took the stand, we were in for the biggest let-down of all:  “Really, you’d be better off if you let Walmart develop the land. The company has big bucks and can make loads of concessions to you. Why they’ll even make a big retaining pond with a lovely fountain to enjoy as you drive by. What if an adult entertainment facility buys the land later? Or a huge liquor store?  Then where would you be?” To rub it in, the Wal-Mart people asked for some of our shamrocks, “to show solidarity in pursuing the green,” they said.  Green? Green like money?

images-4_as is    In the end, the journey toward a resolution was a zig-zaggy path of uncertainty fraught with the unexpected. It was truly Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. But we were bound together to face our common foe. The St. Johns River-keeper became a new friend, a neighborhood advocate from a nearby community coached us to anticipate possible next “moves” from City Hall and Wa-Mart. The Florida Times-Union ran progress reports, the local TV station featured us on an evening newscast. The process proceeded with fits and starts: rapid action following by long waits. At the final meeting at City Hall, for example, we signed in at 5:30 p.m. and were heard by the formal City Council at 12:45 a.m.  Though the decision for land use was ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, our community gained thirteen concessions, including 4.7 acres of conservation easement to compensate partially for the additional impact on traffic and loss of wetlands. And the fountain!

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Of course, there is more concrete and asphalt next to our beloved woodlands, but our community will never be the same. We have learned the importance of team-work to meet an outside challenge, and in the process have become true neighbors.

Yes, Kermit the Frog, is right:

“It’s not that easy being green;

But green’s the color Spring.

And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain,

Or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!

And I think it’s what I want to be.”

     When we moved in years ago, Killarney Shores was very WASP-y, with the origin of many residents reflective of the street names. Now we share care, concern, and meals with Burmese, Bosnian, African-Americans – folks of all colors, a lovely palette of skin tones; white mingles with tan and mahogany. Symphony member, handyman, business owner, retirees live side by side. And if an outside threat strikes again, I have no doubt we will present a united front.

Rainbow_as is

Yes, green is important — very important. And in these times of awareness of our earth’s fragility, it is important to preserve, to recycle, even to restore our resources. But even more important is learning to value of community that can exist in all neighborhoods, all citizens of our planet and residents of a close-knit community with families from around the world.

Do you live in a neighborhood where there you have noticed changes recently? In the last few years?  How have these changes affected you?

Tell us your story.

KermitFrogDreams

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21 thoughts on “It’s Not Easy Being Green

    1. So glad for showing up and noticing. Seeing your name always conjures up warm and fuzzy feelings. I imagine you are still at the College and still teaching. I know I mentioned it to you before, but your comment in one of our Cooperative Learning sessions fits the theme so well today: “I’d rather be GREEN and growing than ripe and rotting” (Smile)

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  1. Marian failed to tell you that she was the receipent of the 2002 Outspoken Citizens Award presented by the Southside Business Men’s Club (SBMC)…..”she took on corporate America. Through her leadership efforts, she helped stop the destruction of the natural beauty of her Killarney Shores neighborhood….resulting in a more aesthetic environment for the community and Jacksonville.” Go Marian.

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    1. You have a sharp memory, Carolyn. Are you quoting from a newspaper clipping? Thank you – you are one reader who can recall our valiant, but exhausting, struggle and the concessions to our community that resulted.

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  2. I love this post. And it helps me visualize you as the shepherd-hearted leader you are, Marian. I wonder if you see any “plain” influence in your green leadership?

    Stuart and I had a wonderful experience of community when we purchased and the first home in a new Kalamazoo neighborhood of 22 houses. We baked welcome brownies for new neighbors as they arrived and started a spreadsheet of names and contact info of every resident, including children. As time went on, we had block parties, girls night out events, movies, shopping sprees, Euchre parties, book club. Not everyone did everything, but we all truly got to know each other. Now we are scattered, but FB keeps us in touch, and we have very warm memories of a diverse mix of wonderful people.

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    1. You have the same pattern of making connections and all for the good. I knew you had lived in Michigan for I time but didn’t know the story of mobilizing your neighborhood in such a wonderful way. Your spreadsheet sounds like the catalyst for so many good things. We have a directory now that seems to help continue our connections.

      I didn’t see the “plain” influence in this particular instance, but I guess it’s indelibly printed upon all I do as is the case with you. I certainly see your leadership qualities as well, publishing and promoting a wonderful book, now in its 3rd printing. Quite an accomplishment for a plain girl with a great story, a strong work ethnic and winsome ways. Remember Forster: “Only connect . . . !”

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  3. We moved to Melbourne in 1999. The area has changed a lot. Wild animals that we used to see – deer and wild hogs – are a no-show. Some big cats roamed our development for a while after they lost their space to development elsewhere.

    Good for you for organizing to save the green. I worry that we over develop and don’t have the resources to take care of those who live here.

    Happy St. Paddy’s Day. (When our girls were young, we used to make green mashed potatoes – with food coloring. They loved it.

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    1. Welcome again, Judy. Thanks for your anecdotes. Yes, when I see more condos going up with the roads already jammed, and worse, forested lands sacrificed, I groan.

      Green mash potatoes? I have no Irish (in me, that I know of) but I remember buying a green derby hat in school to celebrate the holiday. This morning, my mother reminded me of pears in lime jello she made for us too–probably still does.

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  4. Marian – I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am you reposted this. Otherwise, not having known you when it first appeared, I would have completely missed out on this delight! And I LOVE the Kermit the Frog quote at the end. So much so, I’m going to post it on my Facebook wall.

    By the way, Saint Patrick’s Day is our 34th wedding anniversary.

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    1. Happy 34th wedding anniversary, you and the “cereal killer” character! You obviously have a happy marriage. I’m glad you like the Kermit quote. Actually, it didn’t appear on the original. I found it just a few weeks ago and added it. Thank you for the shout out on Twitter, too!

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  5. This is an awesome post, Marian, and demonstrates precisely why we all love you, a spirited leader in a challenging world.

    I have a constant battle going with my rear neighbor concerning my green wall. I am happy it blocks her light pollution, and she is disturbed that rapists might be hiding in the foliage. When God sees fit to turn it brown, she quickly gives me a phone call to complain…as if I have control over the weather. I pray every year for fair weather through winter.

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    1. A copy of your book as a peace offering, Susan? Probably not, as your disgruntled neighbor sounds too hard to please. You have so many irons in the fire; I am honored that you take the time to read and comment on my posts. Thank you!

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  6. Allow for traffic is right, Marian! Kermit knew the territory. This is a wonderful post. I loved your wish to live in a house on a hill with tall trees. Our daughter and her family live in Chapman, KS, a strongly Irish area, and their St. Patrick’s Day parade is a highlight. There’s nothing like the wearin’ of the green!

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    1. I’m glad you liked the post. There are lots of St. Paddy’s Day parades this week end, and a big one in Savannah, GA, an Irish enclave, on Mpnday. Glad to hear about your daughter’s town festivities. After the winter we’ve had, everyone’s glad to escape the indoors for some celebration.

      Your complexion seems to echo the season as well, Marylin. My one and only grand-daughter Jenna has lovely auburn hair. She gets raves.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  7. Marian, I am so happy to read your accounts of this ‘wild ride.’ I am really sorry about all the new concrete covering important and sacred places, and I am happy that you connected with your neighborhood in a new way. To me, Florida seems like ‘a mess”–sprawling and unconcerned about community, natural beauty and treasure–until I read your posts.

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    1. Like in any community, it is always a fight! One of our opponents, referring to the vast financial assets of Wal-Mart, yelled, “Money talks!” Well, we had to scream just a little louder to get the 13 concessions we did.

      Thanks for adding your voice for protecting our fragile environment.

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  8. I haven’t waged a turf war in this hemisphere, but I did pitch in to provide eco-friendly income alternatives for locals in SE Asia who were tired of corporations coming in to log their mountains and then moving on when the first landslide hit with the rains. It may have reverted back when we left, but at least it helped for a few years.

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    1. Good for you! I want to hear more about your Indonesian adventures. What eco-friendly income alternatives did you provide? Curious minds want to know!

      You always have something helpful to say, Traci. I say, Woe unto the rapists and pillagers of the land.

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    1. You are right: Technically wetlands are protected here. However, the City Council approved Wal-Mart’s appeal for mitigation to “protect” wetlands off-site. Hypocritical, of course.

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