You can’t enjoy an exemplary town or city without supporting great neighborhoods.
Building a system of stable and healthy neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders, I believe, is the primary job of cities, towns, and counties everywhere. Too many HOA boards are either filled with unengaged residents or those too eager to tell their neighbors what to do. So, municipal leaders must step in to encourage well-maintained and socially engaged communities. With this same goal of assisting leadership teams in building resident engagement and improving entranceways, as part of the Corridor of the Year Contest, I also award one neighborhood with the distinction of being the Neighborhood of the Year for District 2.
In the program's first year, I chose Rolling Oaks, located off Thompson Road. This large neighborhood has over 350 homes without an HOA or sewer system. I was so impressed in 2019 with their ability to put together an efficient and effective leadership team to advocate for a sewer conversion. Then, in 2022, the neighborhood came together again in a big way to improve the front entranceway. They painted columns and fencing. Dozens of neighbors donated schefflera plants and mulch. Numerous residents rose to the top to lead, such as Jeff Englebrecht, Kelly Dawson, Cindy Haines, Bill Hejl, Fred Dunn, and the Allens. The team has maintained the entranceway and successfully passed an MSBU vote to fund the sewer. Congratulations, Rolling Oaks.
In the program's second year, I chose Lake Pleasant Cove, located off Apopka Boulevard. While an upscale neighborhood, they were saddled with 25 acres of natural land by the developer and the City of Apopka. With only 90 homeowners to additionally pay for maintenance of an interior park, substantial brick wall, and four large entranceway walls, plus the 25 acres of wetland - the curb appeal or exterior features had become blighted. Fencing sections were filled with vines if they had not already been stolen. The trees were not trimmed, walls were mold-filled, beds lacked mulch, sides needed repair, and fences were overgrown with weeds. Unsheltered individuals inhabited the wetland areas, and they were filled with trash and tires.
Their delightful president suffered health challenges, and her residents were not eager to assist. So, in January of 2023 I first invited a large group of students to volunteer from the Apopka High School Key Club. The sponsor, Frances Portalin from Seacoast Bank, did a yeoman’s job bringing these students to trim bushes and trees, pull weeds, and pick up trash.
Mayor Bryan Nelson and City Administrator Ed Bass also did a great job sending city public works staff out to haul away large trees that had fallen in the right-of-way. Staff also regularly picked up piles of debris. One Saturday, the Apopka Professional Firefighters even sent a team to trim the laurel oaks up and off a wall to prevent future degradation. The neighborhood and Southern Apopka community were invited out five more times to weed, bleach, fence, and mulch beds. Many folks came with pole saws trimming up the over 100 laurel oak trees required to be planted by the city code. Way too many, by the way. I’m glad this code has been adjusted, as these communities do not have the funding to maintain such a large canopy of trees.
The Key Club students also returned numerous times. Apopka City Commissioner Nick Nesta donated mulch, and Commissioner Diane Velazquez supervised Key Club Students. Jarette Scholfield and Pam Welker from the Southern Apopka community volunteered and do not even live here. Things were going well, but we were really failing to recruit Lk. Pleasant Cove residents. Residents seemed content with letting other volunteers do the work. That became discouraging to the volunteers. But, in the end, one family became my heroes. A father with five children brought his older children out almost daily to pick up trash and finish the work so many others had begun.
Justin Dierks even picked up trash along the entire Apopka Boulevard corridor the final week when other HOA leaders were unresponsive.
If you visited Lake Pleasant Cove, you would notice the frontage still isn’t “perfect”—more of those dastardly Laurel Oak trees to trim and weeds to remove. The railroad track area still needs weed whacking and additional tree work. However, I’m confident that Justin and his family will continue to recruit other neighbors to assist in the ongoing improvement of this large frontage along Apopka Blvd.
Finally, I’m truly in awe of the Lake Pleasant Cove Board of Directors. The entire board volunteered multiple times. I’m praying residents appreciate all their work. I was even out there myself five times and managed to pick up a bad case of poison ivy. Nevertheless, congratulations Lake Pleasant Cove, a job well done.