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Bremerton's Union Hill neighborhood defines itself

Brian Banke, pastor of the Community of Christ at Memorial Lutheran Church on Veneta Avenue, demonstrates the workings of the rain gardens outside the church, built October 2009. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
Brian Banke, pastor of the Community of Christ at Memorial Lutheran Church on Veneta Avenue, demonstrates the workings of the rain gardens outside the church, built October 2009.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

West of downtown Bremerton and south of 11th Street, residents are reinventing their neighborhood.

In recent months, neighbors of the greater Veneta Avenue area have been branding their part of town to coincide with neighborhood improvements they have been making for more than a year, dubbbing the area Union Hill.

“People just got excited about creating something totally new,” said Jaime Forsyth, a 10th Street resident who has spearheaded the neighborhood’s makeover.

Union Hill, named for the old Union High School site where Kiwanis Park is now located, stretches from 11th Street to the north to Gregory Way on the south, and east the Charleston business district to Warren Avenue. Since late 2008, neighbors and churches have worked with the city to build environmentally-friendly rain gardens and plant trees, continuing with more planting this weekend and additional projects in anticipation of Earth Day on April 22. The neighborhood’s efforts to brand itself has caught the attention of city government.

“I constantly use that neighborhood as a recipe for the rest of our nine districts,” Mayor Patty Lent said.

With the help of a $2,500 neighborhood grant awarded by the city, Forsyth and neighbors planted trees along 10th Street in 2008, catching the eye of Brian Banke, pastor of Community of Christ at Memorial Lutheran Church on Veneta Avenue. Tired of the useless blacktop space near the church, an old abandoned city effort to cram more shipyard parking into the area, he wanted to extend Forsyth’s efforts to Veneta Avenue.

Last year, Banke invited three nearby churches - Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, First Christian Church of Bremerton and Apostolic Life Tabernacle - to join him and Forsyth in extending neighborhood beautification, planting Japanese maple trees along Veneta Avenue from Ninth to 11th Street in October.

Volunteers also built rain gardens, swales of sandy soil that absorb rain water that would have otherwise flowed untreated into stormwater drains.

“We believe that we are stewards of our environment and we want to be responsible in that area,” Banke said, adding that there has been an aesthetic improvement as well. “Everybody says it looks so much better there.”

The neighborhood improvement efforts have collected thousands of dollars worth of donations in supplies and labor, the only costs being $550 pitched in by each of the four participating churches.

Because of the environmental component, the city lent a hand in the project, helping with excavation and offering equipment at no charge to the neighbors and little cost to the city. The stormwater reclamation function of the rain garden fulfills a city initiative to alleviate Puget Sound pollution and build permeable surfaces throughout town, said Phil Williams, Public Works and Utilities director.

The environmental emphasis is what differentiates Union Hill from the rest of Bremerton, said City Councilman Greg Wheeler, who represents the area and has volunteered in neighborhood work parties with his wife.

“It’s a unique identity and it’s something that, as time goes on, will increase our pride in the area,” Wheeler said.

After this weekend’s planting is finished, Union Hill residents will focus on their next initiative, completing 40 projects for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Ideas include encouraging residents to plant a tree, hosting a rummage sale, renovating a house in need and establishing a yard waste collection system.

“We can find ways to get things done with creative use of community,” Forsyth said.

Neighbors will also ramp up efforts to brand the neighborhood and organize volunteers. The new Union Hill Neighborhood Association is working on a district logo, a new Web site and T-shirts for Earth Day.

With a more structured organization, such as the Manette Neighborhood Association, the district can better tackle its needs and go after grants for improvement projects, Wheeler said.

“We’re taking charge of our own destiny and we’re going make this a great place to live,” Forsyth said.

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