Local News Columnist
9:58 PM CST, January 14, 2012
The new Evans High School, which opened this month, finally has people in Pine Hills feeling good about their community.
The $77 million school is the most visible symbol of change yet for the neighborhood that has often been a symbol of Orange County's neglect. Today it's better known for poverty and crime than for its middle-class roots.
It's exciting to see so many people rallying around Evans. The parade before the school's official dedication next weekend will likely rival Orlando's Martin Luther King Day Parade in size.
That makes the latest case of bureaucratic bumbling, the kind of thing that has long hampered progress in Pine Hills, all the more maddening.
The Pine Hills Community Council, a group of people trying to take ownership of the neighborhood and clean it up, had a simple request.
They wanted to hang banners on light poles along Pine Hills and Silver Star roads, the community's main corridors.
You've seen these banners before in places such as Avalon Park, Thornton Park and Mills Avenue near Colonial Drive. They give neighborhoods a sense of identity. A distinctive look. Even a little pride.
But hanging banners in Pine Hills, which the community group wanted up in time for the Evans dedication, has turned into a six-month ordeal. You would think the residents asked for Silver Star to be repaved in gold, not decorated with a few flags featuring themes such as "diversity," "family" and "small business."
"It's just typical of Pine Hills being underserved, overlooked and dismissed," said Pastor Michael Kimbrough, who runs the newly opened Pine Hills Community Performing Arts Center.
Kenneth Dwyer, immediate past president of the community council, told me he never thought the request for banners would turn into a fight.
"It would seem like a simple thing," he said.
The group isn't even asking for any money. The Pine Hills Safe Neighborhood Partnership, which is operated by the county, has already agreed to foot the bill of a few thousand bucks.
The reason for the holdup seems to be because Orlando Utilities Commission, which owns the utility poles on large swaths of Pine Hills and Silver Star roads, just doesn't want to make it happen. There are liability and safety issues, it says — even concerns about whether the flags might somehow block the glow from the streetlights.
That's just one of the silliest things I've ever heard.
OUC has somehow allowed banners elsewhere. What's so hard about reaching a similar agreement with Orange County so Pine Hills can do the same?
Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell, who represents part of Pine Hills, said county staff tried to work out a liability agreement that OUC would be happy with. Apparently, it wasn't.
"They're being difficult," she told me. "I think it's unfair."
OUC spokesman Tim Trudell says the utility is more accustomed to working with the city of Orlando on banner projects than unincorporated parts of Orange County, and that even banners in Orlando can take months to install.
"It's just more complicated than you might think," he says.
It turns out that Pine Hills even has inferior utility poles. Yep, in addition to poorly planned roads and a mishmash of zoning that makes it hard to create a cleaner, nicer look in its business district, people in Pine Hills also have to deal with second-rate light posts.
They aren't the newer, fancy kind such as those in Avalon Park designed with banners in mind.
But OUC, if it really wants to live up to its brand as a reliable servant of this community, needs to try harder.
Why not help residents who are trying to make a difference get past the small stuff, such as hanging flags from poles, so they can move on to the bigger challenges that face Pine Hills?
It shouldn't be a big deal. It should just get done.
Evans, and all the pomp and circumstance that will come with this week's grand-opening bash, will inject a fresh attitude of hope and possibility in the neighborhood.
That shouldn't be diminished by the same-ol', same-ol' treatment that Pine Hills is getting over a simple request to show its renewed sense of community.
email@example.com or 407-420-5448