Everyone's looking at empty senior land for projects

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It took years and an act of Congress for the Carson City Senior Center to get almost five acres from the Bureau of Land Management. Now it seems plans for the empty, former BLM yard on Beverly Way are popping up all over the place -- except from the seniors.

Two proposals floated recently would have part of the property occupied by either a community services center or a community garden.

Janice Ayres, executive director of the state Retired Senior Volunteer Program, said she sees the land as an ideal spot for a community services center for which she has been trying to find a vacant, free piece of land for three years.

She had proposed the center for a BLM parcel off South Edmonds Drive. Neighbors protested and left Ayres in search of another site. Ayres said just under two acres is needed for the entire building, which will host several nonprofit agencies from locals like RSVP and Court Appointed Special Advocates to Carson Newcomers, the Red Cross and Girl Scouts of America.

She has plans to make a pitch to the Reynolds Foundation for the $6 million project, but can't do it without a sure place to put the building, she said.

"That's the stickler we're in," Ayres said. "There's not much left in this town to build on. This is about our last hope. I think it would be a real loss to this city not to have these agencies."

Carson Supervisor Jon Plank said he and others have been looking at places to put a community garden where Carson residents could cultivate food on public property. The garden would go on a small piece of the acreage under the power lines where "not much else could be done," Plank said.

He, Bob Kennedy, formerly of the senior center board, and Joanne Skelly, Carson and Storey county extension educator for the University of Nevada, Reno's Cooperative Extension, have been looking at a variety of sites for the project.

"It would give people who don't have the opportunity (to garden) where they live to do gardening," Plank said. "It's a good, therapeutic activity that could potentially produce food for those who may not have access to it."

Plank said he envisions the parcel being used by seniors first and leftover space made available to other community members. It could also be used to pair gardening seniors in a mentor relationship with youngsters and give senior master gardeners a chance to pass on their skills.

"There's probably no end to were it could go, but it depends on how much enthusiasm there is for it," Plank said.

The property has deed limitations saying it has to be used for a "senior assisted living facility or other public purpose," said Janice McIntosh, senior center director, which she interprets to mean public services that benefit seniors. McIntosh said in her testimony before a Congressional committee she represented that the site would be "to develop a one-stop shopping area for senior services."

"It would be strictly for seniors," she said. "We feel fortunate enough to be in a situation where we can provide services that are totally related to seniors. From the start, the board has worked on making this dream come true."

The center's board of directors heard both proposals and asked for more information on the garden, Plank said. Ayres said the board asked that her proposal be reviewed by its advisory council.

McIntosh seemed warm to the garden idea partly because a garden can be temporary. She said her staff is collecting the opinion of seniors on the garden idea. However, McIntosh also said senior directors are getting ready to start another master plan that will include uses for the property, proposals for which include an adult day care or senior low-income housing.

"We are studying a lot of different things. You have to do that before you decide what path you're going to go down," McIntosh said. "We have one opportunity to do it right."

A $3.1 million expansion and second-floor addition to the senior center is under way. The center will serve its last meal at its Beverly Drive site May 6. Senior services will be moved to the Fuji Park Exhibit Hall for the remainder of the construction, which is expected to wrap up in February 2003.


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