APOPKA, Fla. — City of Apopka council members are moving along with their proposal to annex the historically Black area of South Apopka, reuniting two communities separated decades ago by segregation.
The two sides gathered at a community center in South Apopka for a workshop Tuesday afternoon, their second meeting in two months and the first to be held in South Apopka.
“I think it’s important to figure out exactly what the residents want,” Commissioner Nick Nesta said.
The 714 acres that the city is trying to annex contains thousands of homes and a handful of businesses. Despite being less than one mile from Apopka City Hall, South Apopka remained unincorporated throughout the 20th century. A city law forbade Black residents from living in many areas of the incorporated region until the late 1960′s.
Today, the neighborhood is dotted with homes, some owned and many rented. There is a community center and two parks, but little else. It’s a consequence of decades of underinvestment.
“They have nothing to do and nowhere to go,” community leader Clinton Stanley said, about the area’s teenagers. “No one to give them resources to be their better themselves.”
Stanley said he was suspicious of the sudden interest in annexation, believing the city was attempting a land grab to gentrify the area.
“You had opportunity to make South Apopka yours 40-50 years ago,” he said.
However, the effort was ignited by Apopka Commissioner Alexander Smith, who grew up in South Apopka. He said he was tired of hearing from old friends that the area had not changed.
Apopka staff have so far figured out that the city would need to hire 14 police officers, 18 firefighters, several sanitation workers and build a new fire station to bring the infrastructure up to citywide levels. The changes would cost the city $2 million per year, after accounting for the millions in additional tax revenue South Apopka would bring to the budget.
Leaders said they had not begun figuring out how they’d pay for the effort – and what it would cost both current and South Apopka residents.
“I think the county has a responsibility that people in South Apopka,” Mayor Bryan Nelson said, adding that he was a “no” vote. “They’re obviously a $5 or $6 billion entity and we’re let’s say $150 million entity. It’s Goliath and us.”
Many of the South Apopka residents said they were in favor of annexation, though, because they were tired of the county’s underinvestment. They said they’d watch deputies take longer to respond year after year, and fewer affordable housing or job opportunities come their way.
“I think is long overdue just to come streets down to incorporate the Black community,” James Parker, a deacon at a local church, said.
His sentiment echoed annexation’s biggest backer.
“80 years overdue in my opinion,” Commissioner Smith said. “The reason why the time is now because if not now, when?”
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