BY LOUIS C. WARD
LEESBURG – Civic and community leaders representing the City of Leesburg’s Police Department, City Commission, Housing Department, and community churches and organizations watched and listened when more than 50 Leesburg residents from Carver Heights, Oak Ridge, and Montclair communities revealed what they felt were the major issues affecting their neighborhoods at the recent West Leesburg Community Development Corporation’s (WLCDC) Community Meeting held Thursday evening, March 16, 2023 at Leesburg’s Resource Center at 1041 County Road 468, Leesburg, Florida 34748.
Residents’ concern for safety was the main item discussed, citing the need for speed bumps and sidewalks leading their list. Some residents said the speed bumps were inadequate because cars still continue to drive recklessly down certain streets. Since there are no sidewalks on many streets, pedestrians are in danger of cars hitting them especially at night when it’s dark. The speed bump and sidewalk issues were prevalent in most neighborhoods.
Carol Nichols, a resident of Cypress Oaks would like the ditch and the path in her neighborhood cleaned and brought back. She also, along with three other neighbors, requested $300.00 to purchase signs.
One resident, Mary Glover who lives on Tuskegee Street, said they have a speed bump, but it’s too low and too small. Cars just roll over it. Former City Commissioner John Christian explained that those speed bumps met the specifications for a speed bump. But the community must specify a speed bump with asphalt, which is higher and more effective than those installed in their neighborhoods.
Tommy Green lives on Mizpah and Olivet streets. He wants to see at least three speed bumps on each block. Gloria Royal wants to get the next generation more involved with a community garden. Kids can become active in the community, Ms. Royal stated. Another resident living on John Road and Beecher Street said brighter lights are needed. One resident, almost directly addressing Leesburg Police Captain Mack, said “It was important that police officers interact more with community residents instead of coming to “hunt, meaning to come to make arrests.”
Some residents felt there were no outlets for youth or senior citizens: “there’s nothing for them to do.” I beg to differ on that, Pastor John Christian interrupted. “Leesburg has more programs for our youth than any other city in Lake County.” He mentioned the new H.O. Dabney Aquatic Center on Pine Street, the Youth Recreation Center, and the Teen Center, both on Griffin Road. “It’s not so much of not having anything to do or where to go for our youth. It’s about getting them to utilize the programs and facilities already available to them,” emphasized Pastor Christian.
Dr. Valda Slack spoke about the Excellence Academy on County Road 468 in Montclair, where students can receive Step Up for Students Scholarships to attend the private school. There was concern expressed about the old Burger King premises on Palmetto Street, which is being inhabited by the homeless, bringing drug and alcohol addiction problems.
District 1 Commissioner Allison Berry concluded the meeting with recognizing the issues discussed and making note of them for inclusion in her100 Day Plan, which will probably be publicized at a future city commission meeting.
Many attendees felt it was an informative and productive meeting. But many also hoped that it wasn’t just an opportunity for residents to gripe and complain, but an opportunity for residents to begin to partner with the WLCDC, City of Leesburg, and other organizations to devised a plan to eliminate the problems discussed and help all those communities represented work together for a more viable, safe and a decent community where they can live and raise their children.
“I think we need to have more community meetings,” said CRA Commissioner Dr. Erika Jasper. “Commissioner Allison Berry did a good job re-evaluating her 100 Day Plan and assessing the needs, wants and desires of the community. I hope she will work hard to implement the needs of the community such as the speed bumps, lighting, etc.”
WLCDC President Fred Griffin, who facilitated the community meeting, thought it was very productive, saying, “The residents of West Leesburg voiced their concerns about their community and the entire board heard everyone loud and clear.” That’s how you make an effective community better by listening and applying the necessary tools to improve it.”