In 1969, the State of Florida enacted legislation enabling local governments to create community redevelopment areas and Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) to oversee redevelopment activities in these areas.
A CRA is created when the governing body finds one or more areas, within the city, that is “blighted” and have a need to rehabilitate, conserve, and redevelop that area. After the CRA is created, the CRA Board, along with the agency, is required to prepare and adopt a redevelopment plan. This plan includes a detailed description of the boundaries for a redevelopment area.
In 1993, the City of Apopka saw a need and created its own CRA. The Apopka CRA district covers 633 acres in the City’s historic downtown area, as well as parts north and south of U.S. Highway 441. But a great deal of this district covers the area known as South Apopka – the part that is within the city limits.
After its creation, not much was done with the CRA. But in the last few years, a board was seated, regular meetings have been scheduled, and in June of 2017, a plan was updated and adopted.
According to the City website, the mission of the Apopka CRA is to improve the commercial and residential viability, livability, demographics, market conditions, technological advances, and many other challenges within the District. This task is accomplished by creating projects and activities which encourage business owners and residents to enhance and improve the CRA through the implementation of activities that promote sustainable economic and social growth.
That sounds great. Apopka has a CRA Board, a needy CRA District, an updated and adopted plan, a worthy mission, and a list of tasks.
So let’s get down to business.
On June 28th, Apopka will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Apopka CRA. Well, I’m not sure it will be celebrated, but June 28th marks the 25th year the CRA has been in existence.
If snapshots of the CRA District were taken in 1993, and then another set of current-day snapshots were taken and overlaid from those of 1993, I’m afraid it would look very similar. That is to say, there has not been enough improvement in the 25 years the CRA has been in existence.
Last week the Apopka CRA board set aside a proposal essentially written by the Apopka Police Department to take on the challenges of this tiny but volatile district. The primary issue that board members had was that they had not been given an opportunity to properly review a proposal sent by the Florida Economic Consortium (FEC).
Here is a portion of what the APD proposal stated:
“The CRA, comprising approximately 4.6% of the population, is dealing with a disproportionately large percentage of the crime within the City of Apopka. The Apopka Police Department has invested resources in all areas of the City, including the CRA, and the amount of reported crime within the community has nominally dropped from 2016 to 2017. There is, however, a need to focus on crime, the fear of crime, and quality of life issues within the CRA boundaries to improve the standard of living within the community. This CRA Community Outreach proposal will inject resources into the CRA, from a variety of funding areas, designed to target the needs of those citizens living in the community.”
The cornerstone of the proposal was to provide a supervisory level APD officer to be assigned to the CRA to be the liaison between the citizens of the community, the APD, the CRA Board, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and the business community to facilitate resources, build trust, and help combat the environmental deficiencies that contribute to social disorganization, and thus an increase in crime and a decrease in feeling of safety.
Also included in the proposal was a police vehicle, uniform, firearm, and other necessary gear for the officer.
In addition to the assigned officer was community initiatives including workshops, educational materials, and outreach programs. There is also a linked but separate proposal that calls for $75,000 from the CRA to be budgeted for the renovation of 75 residences at $1,000 per house.
“This proposal is focused on the people within the community and their well-being, rather than the overall economic development of the CRA,” the proposal states.
The FEC proposal largely relied on findings from the Apopka Community Task Force on Violence and focused primarily on affordable housing, a small business academy, neighborhood accountability boards, and a PTSD urban development center. There is little or no crossover between these two proposals, and no reason to choose one instead of another. Both proposals can stand or fall on their own merits. But the consensus of the board was to wait until a future meeting to hear both proposals and give the community another opportunity to express its opinions and comments to the board on which direction it wants to go.
Perhaps the FEC’s proposal needs to be tweaked. Perhaps the board needs more time to fully digest the APD plan. Perhaps there are other ideas and thoughts from the community that could provide a clearer picture of how to use CRA funds, but some time soon, the CRA needs to act.
This plan needs to hit the streets and leave the debate and study stage.
Right now when I think about the Apopka CRA, I see meetings at City Hall. I see attorneys debating the meaning of slum and blight. I see articles both in support and critical of the CRA. I see Tallahassee threatening to end CRA’s, or investigations into spending practices.
What I want to see is progress and action.
When I think of the CRA, I want to drive right past City Hall, turn south on Park Avenue and see 75 houses with $1,000 worth of improvement. I want to see an APD Officer dedicated to the betterment of the CRA community. I want to see new educational opportunities, and I want to see affordable housing. I want to see a small business academy. I want to see a PTSD urban development center. I want to see neighborhood accountability boards.
In short, I want to see the CRA in action, not in debate, discussion, and analysis. I want to see volunteers, construction crews, and a community emerging. I want to talk about making a dream a reality… not a concept, or a master plan.
I want to see green shoots of progress popping up in the South Apopka soil. I’m tired of talking about the seeds sitting in a bag at City Hall.
I want to see the forest, not the trees.
It’s impressive that the CRA has been taken out of mothballs, and the staff and board created a Master Plan. The vision and strategy behind it are to be applauded. So I’m taking nothing away from those efforts. But consider this a friendly nudge, a call to further action that can net results now.
Let’s not wait for the future of South Apopka. Let’s not dream about it. Let’s build it.