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8/16/02: Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

A New Neighborhood
By Carol Lewis

Delray Beach · When homeowners in Seacrest and Del-Ida Park began lobbying the city for help in saving their declining neighborhoods, they didn't know when or even if changes would be made.

Now, more than a decade after they began, property owners have reaped such benefits as calmer streets, better drainage, landscaping, public parking lots and sidewalks.

By the time all the improvements outlined in the redevelopment plan are completed in another year, about $4.5 million will have been invested over three years.

"We fought long and hard for it. It's been a long time coming," said Sandy Jamison, a past president of the Del-Ida Park Neighborhood Association.

Jamison and Scott Christensen, president of the Seacrest neighborhood, said attention to their neighborhoods already is beginning to pay off. Property values have increased and For-Sale signs dot the area.

Residents also are showing more pride in their properties.

"A lot of people are taking much better care of their property. There is a lot going on here. People are painting and cleaning up," said Christensen, a nine-year resident.

The neighborhood plan is the first of its type drawn by the city.

In approving the city's Comprehensive Plan in 1989, city commissioners determined increases in tax revenues would depend more on the value of existing properties and less on new development, because most of the city was built out. They also said stabilizing neighborhoods was key. Those realizations prompted the concept of neighborhood plans as a proactive approach to stop decline in blighted areas.

The Del-Ida Park/Seacrest plan has become a model for other neighborhoods.

A neighborhood plan for Osceola Park, an area of the city that extends from Federal Highway to Swinton Avenue, and Southeast Second to 10th streets, bisected by the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, should be ready for review in about three months.

Christensen often receives calls from residents in other areas, inquiring how they accomplished their goals.

But the Del-Ida Park residents were roundly ignored in the mid-1980s, when they began lobbying the city for sidewalks and other improvements. Only after they merged with the adjacent Seacrest Neighborhood, which is larger, were they collectively able to turn up the heat, Jamison said.

The neighborhoods, bordered on the west by Swinton Avenue, the east by the F.E.C. railroad tracks, the south by Northeast Fourth Street and the north by Atlantic High School and the city limits, were the first residential areas to be targeted for revitalization.

In 1998, city commissioners and the Community Redevelopment Agency approved the Seacrest/Del -Ida Park Neighborhood Plan, which outlined a strategy to turn the area around.

To help pay for improvements, however, homeowners had to agree to a special tax-assessment district, which will bill them about $1,000 to $1,200 a household after the work is completed. The money may be paid out over 10 years or in a lump sum.

Jamison said the improvements were worth the investment, but the city should have covered the entire tab.

"It was the only way we could get the city to do it," said Jamison, who has lived on North Swinton Avenue since 1983.

Del-Ida Park, designed in 1923 with 12 blocks, 300 building lots and three public parks, was the first platted subdivision in Delray Beach. In a 1987 historic survey, it has 22 Mediterranean Revival-style buildings constructed between 1923 and 1930. The city designated it a Historic District the following year.

The Seacrest neighborhood began in 1922 with 70 acres of undeveloped land north of the city limits. One home was built that year, but 45 new homes were scattered through the subdivision by the end of the decade. The rest of the neighborhood was built up during the '50s and '60s.

Before improvements, residents were burdened with cut-through traffic and a parade of cars en route to the commercial corridor day and night. There was noise from the F.E.C. railroad and commercial properties along Federal Highway.

Landscaping was installed along the railroad to buffer noise and for beautification. Roads were resurfaced, and speed humps and trees were added on some streets.

Trees and landscaping were added at many of the street entrances. Lights were installed. Children no longer play in the streets, now that a playground has been built.

"It looks much better," Christensen said. "The idea was to turn it back into a neighborhood. We got control of the neighborhood."

Paul Dorling, the city's planning and zoning director, said participation of homeowners and their financial commitment expedited the improvements.

"When it was created, the city did not envision the whole thing being completed in three years," Dorling said of the neighborhood plan. "The folks were committed and they stepped up to the plate financially."