BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Code enforcement issues relating to vacant and dilapidated buildings in Daytona Beach’s Black community dominated a community meeting Tuesday night.
The City of Daytona Beach held the meeting at New Mt. Zion Baptist Church to get feedback from the community about a beautification project along Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard (MMB).
The project will cover MMB from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Ridgewood Avenue, which is historically an economic hub in Daytona’s Black community.
The beautification project covers everything the city owns, which includes the roadway and the sidewalks. It will include landscaping, replacing missing and dying trees, shrubbery, benches and more.
More meetings on the project are expected. The plan is to start work on the MMB beautification project in the fall.
Other improvements urged
Residents and business owners welcome beautification but have other concerns.
“We don’t need just beautiful roads and sidewalks; we need infrastructure improvements. A lot of the vacant lots and buildings we have here you don’t see on Dunlawton in Port Orange or Grenada in Ormond,” said Jessica Foreman, who owns Saute Kingz with her husband, Count.
“MMB is the heart of the city. People are upset and feel ignored. The only way we can keep businesses here is if we are allowed to get these buildings for businesses.’’
Ophelia Robinson, who owns Fifi’s Hair Salon with her daughter, Kim Morton, also had concerns.
“It’s a good thing, but are there any rules and regulations for people to upkeep their property?”
Code practices questioned
Residents and business owners also voiced their dissatisfaction with city code practices.
“I came here after high school in Georgia only knowing farming. This city has gone backwards 15 years. It’s about business. Our police are great, but they enforce what they want,” Irvin White commented.
“The city has codes, but they don’t work with property and business owners. They are too quick to put a lien on a property. It’s often cheaper to knock down a building than fix one. All these buildings are just big enough for mom-and-pop shops but people are beyond that now.’’
White further added, “Back in 1992 we could have had (Bethune) Cookman buy from Ridgewood to MLK for $1million. I set up the proposal. It didn’t happen. At that time, no building was worth more than $100,000 dollars.”
What about businesses?
Business owners discussed obstacles they have trying to start a business and securing a location for a business.
“Beautification is great. It is needed, but what are we beautifying for? Local, small business developers? I own the old Singleton Cleaners. My building isn’t up to code, but I’m working on it, but I have a lot of obstacles,” mentioned Bruce McNorton.
Anne Ruby asked Commissioner Ruth Trager and her husband, Warren, what they would do with buildings they own on MMB. Their property has been hit with citations in the past as well.
Warren Tragor stated, “A lot of what happened has to do with urban renewal, city commission practices and contractors not wanting to do work in the area.”
The city says it is working addressing code violations.
Code walk planned
Deputy Public Works Director David Waller noted, “We can’t make homeowners occupy their homes or property owners have their buildings occupied. What we can do is make sure they are up to code. We are working with code enforcement to address the issues.”
A code enforcement walk is set for Sept. 4 at 10 a.m. following a code enforcement meeting at police headquarters at 101 Valor Blvd.
Assistant City Manager Betty Goodman said, “We have eight code violations from MLK to Ridgewood. Citizens should work with the police and code enforcement. We have an upcoming code walk and we need as much support from community as possible. It’s another way to identify and address code issues.”
MLK road project
Resident and business owner Patricia Heard inquired about the Martin Luther King Boulevard road project from Orange Avenue to International Speedway Boulevard. Road work was scheduled to begin July 8, then July 15.
Waller said, “We had good feedback at the meeting on that project regarding manholes and water access. We have gotten with the contractor and went back over the designs. The project should start in a few weeks.”
During the meeting, Redevelopment Director Reed Berger gave a brief presentation on redevelopment grants that the city has available for homeowners, businesses and property owners.
Grants range from $5,000 to $6,000 for infrastructure improvements.
Most of the grants have a 50/50 funds matching requirement and residents must live in that redevelopment zone to get the grant. The Midtown Redevelopment zone is one of five in the city.
Berger explained, “It’s important that we get this information out. It’s not just for small business but homeowners can also get grants to make improvements to their homes. Usually you must get 50/50 matching funds.”