Harris' role as peacemaker courageous
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000
Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris is working to set up a meeting with residents of Largo's Taylor Lake subdivi-sion who are upset about the county's plans to extend a street into their community and expand a nearby recreation center.
As the only black member of the County Commission, Harris has reason to be especially concerned about the blistering rhetoric flying back and forth between Taylor Lake, a predominantly white neighborhood clustered around pastoral Taylor Lake Park, and Ridgecrest, a predominantly black neighborhood in an unincorporated area to the south.
Taylor Lake residents are fighting the proposed extension of 119th Street N from Ridgecrest into their neighborhood. The street now dead-ends in Ridgecrest.
Many of them also oppose the planned improvements to Ridgecrest's Omni Center, including construction of a football field with bleachers, a baseball field and an outdoor pool.
Those facilities will be built on what is now a wide, open field that effectively separates Ridgecrest from the Taylor Lake homes.
Taylor Lake residents who oppose the two projects say they don't want the through traffic the road extension would bring or the noise and light pollution from the athletic fields. And they fear that crime they have heard about in Ridgecrest will migrate into their peaceful neighborhood.
Some Ridgecrest residents, on the other hand, say Taylor Lake's objections are racism, plain and simple.
As we have said before in this space, Pinellas County flubbed this one when it didn't communicate early and thoroughly with area residents, especially those in Taylor Lake, and draw them into the planning process for the street extension and Omni Center enhancements. The county now is put in a position of either ignoring the gathering storm clouds or doing damage control.
Harris is showing courage to initiate a meeting that will get the two neighborhoods together. We hope other Pinellas County and Largo officials, along with resident leaders of both neighborhoods, will join him in planning the meeting to assure a peaceful and constructive airing of concerns.
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