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November 6, 2007

Love Thy Neighbor: The Irish Hill Lisas

Meet “the Irish Hill Lisas” — a bona fide dynamic duo of neighborhood action. I caught up with them on Lexington Road recently to learn more about their community work.Lisa Dettlinger, an interior designer, has lived in the Irish Hill neighborhood for 22 years. She’s been secretary of the Irish Hill Neighborhood Association since 2004. Lisa Santos, a mechanical engineer, has lived in Irish Hill for 19 years, and she’s been serving as co-chair of the neighborhood association since 2003. Naturally, they discovered the neighborhood association in different ways. “The neighborhood association revitalized in the late ’90s because (Jefferson County Public Schools) was opening Hull Street to through traffic,” Santos explained. “They built the Franklin-Breckenridge School on Payne Street, and wanted to use Hull Street as a route for dropping children off in the mornings and picking them up in the afternoons.“We convinced JCPS to put in a cul-de-sac with a gate that opens and closes for school hours. It prevents thru traffic from using the street all the time. It was successful because the neighborhood and JCPS compromised, finding middle ground that both sides could live with.”Dettlinger just wanted to be included — literally. “I showed up at the Neighborhood Association meetings because they hadn’t included my house within the map of its boundaries,” she said. “They annexed us, and I started going to the meetings. That’s how Lisa and I met.”The pair have since unified around several core neighborhood issues. There was the Dawson-Baker Packing Co. and permit-less animal slaughtering.“A truck picked up animal remains that we called ‘the gut truck,’” Dettlinger said. “It would leak blood and animal waste onto the street in front of my house. It was disgusting. We finally got that stopped, and now they just pack meat. We can still hear pigs being slaughtered by Swift behind us on Story and Mellwood. The other night, my son had to shut his bedroom window because he could hear pigs screaming.”The list goes on: “The Spring Street cell tower, demolition of the Liebert Farm House on Lexington Road, the Girl Scout headquarters site-plan, the master plans for Irish Hill and Breslin parks, the annual Irish Hill neighborhood festival, clean up of Baxter Train Station, and now the River Metals development,” Santos said. That makes for a pretty active neighborhood. “Now we’re learning about drainage and stream ecology because of the River Metals project,” said Santos. That site has been the subject of intense scrutiny — a developer plans to build a small shopping center and office park there, and controversially, to reroute Beargrass Creek in the process. “We want to be good stewards of Beargrass Creek,” Santos said. “A mile of it runs though our neighborhood.“If things were done properly, this could be an amazing model for brownfield redevelopment, connecting Irish Hill to downtown and other neighborhoods by using the creek as an asset. Cities across the country are engaged in urban stream restoration; it’s one of the hottest things happening, but this project is moving backward. As we understand, the developer will move Beargrass Creek to the back of the property, straighten it and shorten the length 400 feet. They’ll cap almost 17 acres of contaminated land under concrete; develop 219,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space, plus about 900 parking spaces.” “It’s disheartening that people can’t look at this creek, walk the property and realize how absurd this seems,” Dettlinger said.Even so, the Irish Hill Lisas plod forward, learning as they go. “We’d much rather have a normal life, not have to balance all these meetings, take off work, etcetera,” Santos added. “Working in the neighborhood is a labor of love, and we want to make it the best it can be,” Dettlinger said. “We’re not paid, and it probably sounds nuts. It’s like raising kids. Do the best you can and hope for the best result. We’ve met many cool people and developed a friendship with each other. We walk the neighborhood, talk to people and distribute newsletters. It feels good that people know we’re ‘the Lisas.’”  Hallie Jones works at the Center for Neighborhoods, a community-based organization that has been training neighborhood leaders in Louisville for more than 20 years (www.centerforneighborhoods.org). Contact her at leo@leoweekly.com