PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Community members said they are frustrated after the Renaissance Park Community Garden in Peoria was razed and flattened on Thursday.

Leaders with the Community Garden Park Association said they were shocked and found out the space was being destroyed while it was happening.

The garden first opened in May 2012.

“It was a complete public place for everybody, it wasn’t excluded from anybody,” said Isabella Rinald, a community member.

Neighbors said it’s a place for art and live music. There were garden beds with fresh food too.

“The dismantle of a community garden is one of the most heartbreaking things, especially since we’re in such uncertain times due to the pandemic,” said Rinald.

On Thursday, the garden was razed, leaving little behind. In a statement, leaders with the association said, “This was the first time anyone in our organization had been notified that this was taking place.”

“It had gone from being a productive bright spot within the neighborhood to being a blighting influence,” said Ross Black, community development director for the City of Peoria.

Black said the garden had become overgrown, littered, and was not maintained.

“This year there was nothing planted, there was no produce planted, the only things growing in the garden were weeds,” said Black.

The garden is on land owned by the neighboring gas station. For years, the owner allowed the community association to maintain the park on his land.

Black said the city recently received half a dozen complaints about the property every week.

“Unfortunately, it had just came to a point where really the best option that the property owner and the city could come to was just to remove everything that simply wasn’t being maintained anymore,” said Black.

Some say it’s an attack on the local homeless population that often spent time in the garden.

“People who live here, understand that this was a sanctuary, and the complaints are from people who don’t understand or live here,” said Rinald.

The Community Association said no one from the city arranged support or services for the homeless population that visited the garden and that a shutdown was preventable.

Community members organized a sit-in protest at the property Friday evening starting at 7:30 p.m.

The full statement from the Renaissance Park Community Association is below.

On Friday, Second District Councilman Chuck Grayeb released a statement, saying in part,”The City and conscientious proprietors of business will not permit gardens that are untended and strewn with garbage, weeds, litter, and discarded needles on West Main or anywhere else.”

Grayeb says he is willing to work with an organization or group that will upkeep and maintain another outdoor space in the district.

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