By Jim Bloch
Julian Ruck operates an urban garden called Polly’s Place at 1423 Lapeer, Port Huron. He has attended city council meetings for the past seven months, criticizing City Manager James Freed and the council for not re-zoning his property to allow farming.
Normally, Ruck gets no push back at the meetings. On Jan. 23, that changed when one of his neighbors took the microphone and criticized Ruck for not following city ordinances. Julie Snyder called his property “a hot mess.” She chastised him for his rude treatment of city officials and said he did not represent his neighbors.
A new city goal
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The city council formally adopted its top six goals for the year at its regular meeting Jan. 26. Number 3 is “Explore urban agriculture zoning and communicate current rules and regulations with the community.”
Instead of being pleased, Ruck expressed his disbelief at the length of time it took for the council to respond to his demands.
“Five-hundred and ninety-two days ago, June 10, 2021, I was in James Freed’s office by request,” said Ruck. “For weeks, I was reaching out to him, wanting to talk about — guess what? — urban ag zoning and leaf pickup. 592 days ago. And now the city has prioritized those two items.”
Further down the council’s goal list, among the second dozen goals, was “explore leaf pickup options,” which mistakenly Ruck said was among the top three.
Ruck said that Freed appeared, back in 2021, to endorse his suggestions.
“When I sat with James Freed, he agreed with all of it,” said Ruck. “Yeah, urban ag gardening sounds great (he said); send me the links. And I did. He said leaf pickup by the neighborhoods being taken to community gardens and community compost piles on city-owned property — he said, Great. There’s about 100 city-owned properties that are open and available. He green-lit all of it. The attitude was, I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation… And that was it. That was it. I got one little pile of wood chips one time. Then I got harassed by the blight department. For months.”
Ruck has attended every regular council meeting since May 9, addressing the council during the “public comment” section of the agenda, during which residents get four minutes to address the council.
Ruck emphasized his expertise.
“You do not know anybody who knows more about urban ag than I do. Period,” he said. “Permaculture. Natural building. I’ve worked on homesteads. I’ve taught workshops.”
Ruck said he worked a temp position with Emterra, the city’s waste management contractor. He said he probably knows more about waste than anyone at the council table.
“Please include me in these conversations,” he said. “I’m the one who started them.”
“My husband and I are long time residents of Harrison Point,” Snyder said, addressing the council immediately after Ruck. “My understanding is that Mr. Ruck is not a resident of Harrison Point, but is the owner of the vacant residential lot in which Polly’s Place exists. Mr. Ruck makes it clear that he represents Harrison Point. But at no time in the last three years has Mr. Ruck introduced himself in the neighborhood. In fact, most residents have no clue of who he is or what he is doing. There has been no communication.”
She said that Harrison Point resident do not want or need Ruck representing them.
“Let me make this very clear,” Snyder said. “Mr. Ruck’s use of a vacant residential lot and the disrespectful behavior toward Mayor Repp and the city council, along with the degrading comments about Harrison Point and our city, is appalling and disgraceful.”
At the council’s regular meeting Jan. 9, Ruck accused Freed, Mayor Pauline Repp and Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Archibald of being the problem.
“Port Huron is in the worst shape it has ever been in,” Ruck said then. “The population hasn’t been this low since the 1930s and poverty is twice the national average.”
Snyder said that Ruck doesn’t represent the Harrison Point residents.
“Mr. Ruck has taken a great idea for our community and turned it into a circus with our city,” she said. “At this point, it appears to be more personal than about community, which Harrison Point residents want no part of.”
She said that most residents in the neighborhood take pride in their property and their compliance with city ordinances.
“Polly’s Place is not in compliance with the city ordinances,” Snyder said. “To be honest, it’s a hot mess at that property.”
Under four inches of snow on Jan. 27, there was nothing hot about Polly’s Place. The parcel appeared tidy and picturesque, with its colorful sign and birch bark fencing.
“We understand that Mr. Ruck is trying to do a good thing for our community, but he needs to follow the city ordinances also, just was we do,” said Snyder. “Harrison Point residents do not support Mr. Ruck’s comments or behavior and we do not want it to reflect (on us.)”
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.