Neighborhood safety, environmental issues among priority for Southside residents
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
For more than a year Southside residents have been hearing about massive developments coming to their Tallahassee neighborhoods. Now some are wondering if bringing new housing and more businesses aren’t premature.
There are more pressing problems that should be fixed first, many in a crowd that packed into the Fellowship Hall at Bethel AME Church told city and county government officials in attendance.
Some of the fixes that the neighborhoods need are familiar, while others have been a silent constant problem.
Crime is high. Environmental concerns are prevalent and there is a need for better public safety.
The issues were aired during a Southside Community Conversation called by County Commissioner Bill Proctor last Tuesday night. Future Southside development, public safety, and economic opportunity were the big three topics, but most of the two-hour meeting was consumed by speakers in the audience who wanted to discuss issues affecting their neighborhoods.
It didn’t take long after Proctor ran off a list of changes that are in the works for the Southside before residents reeled off their list of concerns. Proctor pointed to a new housing development near Capital Circle and Orange Avenue intersection along with a new VA health center on the eastern end of Orange Avenue as the first signs of what’s coming.
Proctor also mentioned other changes, including a multi-million-dollar renovation of Rickards High School and the revamping of Orange Avenue Apartments, along with the city’s plans for new bus station at the corner of Meridian Street and Orange Avenue.
Other changes that Proctor said residents could see include widening of the west end of Orange Avenue and Springhill Road. Further west, there’s the FSU-backed plan for building a gateway from Springhill Road that will run through Callen and Springfield neighborhoods.
Orange Avenue, however, was the main topic of conversation.
“No doubt about it,” Proctor said. “Orange Avenue is going to be your Tennessee Street going east and west.”
With that, Southside neighborhood could expect to benefit from businesses that will be part of the growth, said Darryl Jones, who spoke in his role of deputy director of the Office of Economic Vitality.
Jones, who was recently elected to the Leon County School Board, suggested that the biggest boost will come from minority-owned businesses.
“Minority-owned businesses; more times than not; hire minorities,” said Jones. “If we are talking about responding to the issues of economic poverty in this community and we want to be a provider of consummate response; that happens through the strength of small businesses — minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses.”
However, even in the midst of the economic presentation by Jones, the conversation continued to be about what ails communities along Orange Avenue.
Many complain that their neighborhoods have become a refuge for criminals.
Geraldine Ford Davis, a long time resident in the Norte Dame Street area near the Jake Gaither neighborhood, pleaded with city officials to help clean up her community.
“We are depending on you to help us,” she said to the officials in attendance.
Ford Davis and several others talked about the days when their neighborhoods were vibrant before they turned into area that they say are in desperate need of government involvement.
An area of land in her neighborhood that once was a playground is now covered with thick shrubs, she said. A neighborhood complaint a few years ago resulted in a cleanup of the property, but it has since grown up with shrubs again and has become a habitat for wildlife, she said.
Ford Davis put some of the blame for the area becoming blighted on at least one person whose yard has become an eyesore.
If you can name what’s in a house, it’s on that yard,” she said. “Nothing has been done about it.”
Flooding of a creek off Creek Road also poses environmental concerns for those who live in Ford Davis’ neighborhood. A portion of Creek Road has become impassible and the flooding is also causing a problem at nearby Jake Gaither Golf Course.
Dallas Williams, an employee at the golf course suspects that there is a sewage leak the course.
“I think a sewage leak will contaminate the water, so now I’ve stopped drinking the water at my job because I’m concerned about this sewage leak that runs down fairway number two,” Williams said. “That’s why I came here today; to find out who we need to talk to stop some of the water that’s backing up everything on the Southside.”
Later on, newly elected City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox had an answer, suggesting that the neighborhoods take their complaints to City Hall in a comprehensive plan.
“There is power in numbers,” Williams-Cox said. “We can sit here tonight and talk about what’s happening on this street (and) what’s happening on that street, but we need to be concerned about all streets.
“We can’t hold people accountable if we don’t tell them what we want.”
Officers from the Sheriff’s office and Tallahassee Police Department got an earful of stories from residents about countless break-ins and other crimes plaguing the neighborhoods.
Loitering also is a problem that prompted Alfred Williams, a College Terrace resident, to ask law enforcement to clean up the intersection of Pasco Street and Orange Avenue.
His concern is the safety of children who attend nearby Nims Middle, Williams said.
“We’ve got kids come by there every day and we don’t know who is a sexual predator,” he said. “We are putting our kids at risk. We need the sheriff department or whoever to really look at it.”
Audrey Smith, an officer with the Sheriff’s office, didn’t respond directly to the loitering concern, however, she said her agency is actively fighting crime in the area. Both the Sheriff’s office and TPD will intensify their collaborative effort during the holidays, she said.
She encouraged neighborhood leaders to be proactive in their effort to help law enforcement.
“The more you know, the better you can protect yourself,” Smith said. “The more you know; the better you can protect your neighbors. The more you know; the more opt you are to report to us.”
Some in the audience also suggested solutions. Christopher Dupree made a case for restoring vocational education to the school system. Creating interactive parks could also help to keep young children avoid a life of crime, he said.
“I feel that if we address some of those issues,” he said, “not only will we take crime away along with the officers that are doing their job, but we will take back our community.”