A road closure will not fix the problems in the Folkstone/Yarmouth neighborhood, residents told members of the Wellington Village Council on Tuesday.
Most of the problems, residents said, have come from transient residents in the multifamily portions of the neighborhood.
Council members directed staff to meet with residents and work on a plan to combat the problems, which include neglected buildings, maintenance issues, street lighting, drug activity and unsupervised children.
Though closing Folkstone Circle is not entirely off the table, council members felt the neighborhood needed a more comprehensive plan to curb issues.
“This doesn’t go far enough,” Councilman John Greene said of the road closure. “I want a comprehensive plan that says we’re going to take control, we’re going to work hard with code enforcement, hold people accountable and shut down these slumlords who are just letting anybody in.”
Wellington staff originally proposed closing approximately 280 linear feet of Folkstone Circle between Yarmouth Court and Carlton Street in order to stop cut-through traffic.
The neighborhood is bordered by Greenview Shores Blvd. to the east and Greenbriar Blvd. to the south. By turning onto Carlton Street off Greenview Shores Blvd., residents can then take Folkstone Circle and exit on Greenbriar Blvd. near New Horizons Elementary School.
Planning & Development Services Director Tim Stillings told the council that some people use the route to avoid high-traffic intersections when dropping their children off at school.
“The closure is part of an overall strategy that we are taking with each of the priority neighborhoods,” he said. “We’re trying to help every neighborhood be a great neighborhood.”
Stillings noted that the neighborhood has benefited from the defensive measures program, as well as a neighborhood abatement program.
An online survey launched several weeks ago asked whether residents favored closing the road and putting in a park and, if so, whether they’d prefer play structures or a “passive” park.
Of the 107 people who responded, approximately 62 percent were against closing the road. But council members pointed out staff had no way to know whether the survey responses came from neighborhood residents or if residents took the survey more than once.
Vice Mayor Howard Coates asked whether closing the road, as the village did with Goldenrod Road, would help curb crime in the area.
Stillings said it might. “We found the rate did go down [in Goldenrod],” he said. “Whether that can be attributed to the closure, we can’t say for sure.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said he felt more needed to be done in the community than just closing the road.
“I wish we could use code enforcement to correct the problems,” Margolis said. “I know we’re doing the best job we can. I know PBSO is doing a tremendous job along with Safe Neighborhoods. But [problems] are still happening.”
Greene said the village needs to step up and hold people accountable. He pointed to a home visible from Greenbriar Blvd. that has a blue tarp on its roof.
“It has been that way for eight years,” he said. “We can talk about crime and enforcement, but the village needs to step up and do its job.”
He said it’s homes like these that are devaluing the neighborhood.
“It has a negative impact on the overall environment,” Greene said. “It affects everyone not only in that neighborhood, but everyone driving by. We need to do more as a village and as a council to make sure we give people peace of mind, so they know we hear them and we’re working on it.”
During public comment, residents said they need help in their community, but weren’t convinced closing the road was the way to do it.
Andres Hermida, who lives on Yarmouth Court, worried it would devalue his home. “This closure is going to make me want to leave,” he said. “It will devalue my home. You are going to drive more renters in and homeowners out.”
Many residents said it could worsen the problems the community already has, which include traffic but also unsupervised children and teenagers in the street creating an unsafe environment.
Resident Christina Wold was concerned that the proposed park would draw out more children without parental supervision and lead to litter and other problems. She noted the community already has a problem with weapons and drug paraphernalia in the streets and feared it would spill over into the park.
“My concern with the park is that there’s a lot of unattended kids in the street,” she said. “We don’t want them in the street, but there will soon be unattended kids in the park. I understand that these are kids who are not able to cross the street to Tiger Shark Cove Park, but if they’re not old enough to do that, they shouldn’t be out in the street unattended in the first place.”
Greene said he believed residents were overwhelmingly against the closure.
“We’re not trying to divide this community; we’re trying to unite this community,” he said. “These neighborhoods have the same right to the quality of life as everyone else in Wellington.”
He said the road closure was not going to be enough to help residents.
“What are we going to do next? Put up a fence?” he asked. “It sends the wrong message. We want people to live free and be safe. They should be able to raise their kids without fear.”
Greene suggested rejecting the proposal and instead having staff work with residents to come up with a comprehensive plan.
“This is a first draft, but it does not go far enough,” he said. “There is so much work that needs to be done. We need to clean up these neighborhoods, get code enforcement and staff behind it and put some teeth into this stuff. We’ve been barking for years, but there’s been nothing done to drive the bad elements out of this community.”