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    A Times Editorial

    Neighborhood change good sign for Dunedin


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 17, 2003

    Finally, a long-neglected area of Dunedin is getting significant attention.

    The community north of Skinner Boulevard and bordering N Highland Avenue has some of the oldest housing stock in the city, narrow streets that often lack curbs and gutters, and a mixture of land uses from industrial to residential. The diverse, working class population that lives there doesn't have a lot of pull at City Hall. Because of that, it was easy for the community's needs to be ignored for decades.

    That led to situations like the much-publicized deterioration of the city's Stirling Recreation Center on Laura Lane, a building so rundown that city workers must check it regularly to make sure it is still safe for the public to use. A neighborhood park had no facilities or equipment to make it attractive to the area's families. And the Pinellas County Housing Authority's Highlander Village public housing complex was in a poor state of repair, with its residents risking exposure to asbestos and lead paint.

    It took embarrassing publicity in 2001 for the city of Dunedin to put a spotlight on the community's needs and some cash behind the effort. The city now plans to replace the Stirling center, a long-overdue capital project. Construction is scheduled to start in August on a new 17,000-square-foot recreation center. A new skate park has been constructed on the property, too.

    Elizabeth Skinner Jackson Park was refurbished last year through the joint efforts of the city, the Dunedin Youth Guild and the North Douglas community. Now the small park has playground equipment and picnic tables for residents to use, though the park still needs a better parking lot and some landscaping.

    County housing officials announced that 50-unit Highlander Village will be torn down and replaced with new housing. Late last year, Highlander Village residents were given vouchers and told to find other housing.

    In recent years, few new homes have been built in the community. But now the city, in cooperation with Pinellas County, hopes to bring about the construction of five new single-family homes on vacant lots on Palmetto Street. The homes will be sold to low- to moderate-income families, allowing people to become homeowners who might otherwise never be able to fulfill that dream.

    Dunedin officials deserve praise for acknowledging that they had not given sufficient attention and resources to the neighborhood north of Skinner and acting to address the problems there. But there is still more to do.

    Some of the structures in the neighborhood are so dilapidated that they look like a brisk wind would topple them. Some have holes in walls or windows or collapsed flooring, or the lots they stand on are overgrown or filled with junk. Surely, such properties violate city code and present a hazard to the public. City officials, whose job it is to protect the public's safety and welfare, need to see that codes are being enforced in the area. And many of the area's streets need improvements to bring them up to the standards of other, more prosperous Dunedin neighborhoods.

    A city cannot progress if it leaves some of its residents behind. Those inside and outside of government who have worked to improve the neighborhood north of Skinner deserve a pat on the back for their contributions, but the effort must continue.

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