Editor, The Beacon:

I read the editorial titled “Congratulations, West Volusia!” I write to share my thoughts on the opportunity to further recognize the importance of DeLand’s historic Black community, and the business, social and religious contributions to DeLand.

The current boundary of the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) excludes much of the historic Yemassee area, an area centered around Voorhis, Euclid, Garfield and Boston avenues, an area that contains some of the oldest buildings (1890s through 1920s) associated with the city’s Black residential neighborhoods.

Yes, the CRA and the city are now planning on spending approximately $1.5 million on streetscape enhancements for two blocks of Voorhis Avenue from Woodland Boulevard to Clara Avenue South. However, this commitment does not actually address the need to recognize the historic Black business neighborhood.

Perhaps it is time to consider expanding the boundary of the Downtown CRA to take in all of the historic Yemassee area. An official “Finding of Necessity” study could define appropriate boundaries.

Once the boundary was changed, CRA funds could be spent not only within the existing boundary, but within the expanded boundary.

Then, rather than spend $1.5 million on a two-block streetscape, the funding could be devoted to an updated Redevelopment Plan and the initial seed funding of selected projects.

In addition to this expansion, the city might consider restructuring the CRA board. Currently, the mayor and commissioners appoint themselves as board members, and add two community members to reach the maximum number of seven allowed by state law.

But the elected officials, who have so many other concerns, do not have to appoint themselves. Perhaps the CRA board could be the mayor and six appointed members of the community. These board members could then focus their attention solely on the redevelopment issues of the expanded CRA.

The CRA board could also appoint an advisory board, and the advisory board could meet two weeks before the CRA board — with a similar agenda, and the chance for community input.

The advisory-board minutes would be included in the agenda packet for the CRA board, and the CRA board would get a presentation on each issue by a member of the advisory board. This would be an additional opportunity for community participation.

The revitalization of the expanded CRA becomes a concentrated focus of board attention, and members would not have the distraction of dealing with so many other governmental responsibilities.

Finally, there is an important role to be played by Stetson University. Continuing internships to assist the advisory board and the board could be a dedicated community-engagement partnership between the city and the university.

It is also time to consider the annexation of the Spring Hill area, and the restructuring of the Spring Hill CRA board — but that is left for a later discussion.

Frank Schnidman



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