Winter Park group calling for representation via single-member districts

Leaders of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square neighborhood say they have been pushing for proper representation for more than a decade.

They are advocating for changing Winter Park’s at-large City Council to a single-member district structure before their community is “erased.”

“Everybody knew each other, everybody cared for each other,” said Shelia Ham Reid.

“We thought about one another as family,” said Martha Bryant-Hall.

Two long-time residents of Winter Park shared memories of their town. While many people may think of Park Avenue when they think of Winter Park, the historically-black neighborhood of Hannibal Square was there long before the posh shopping district arrived. A group referred to as the “elders” sat down with FOX 35 News to explain, over the years, their community has changed.

“So much has changed, it has put a dagger in the heart of the people on the west side,” said Bryant-Hall.

Their main concern is gentrification.

“You can see, a relatively old house, looks like it could be 80-90 years old and then you have two new constructions on both sides,” said Lawanda Thompson, community activist.

Not only erasing history but increasing property taxes.

“We see the economic eviction of long term, lifelong residents,” said Barbara Chandler, Founder, Coalition for Access and Representation.

“There is no concern about the west side, it feels like we’re just in their way,” said Reid.

“You just feel utterly helpless,” said Donna Lee Needham.

“I feel like we don’t have a voice,” said Francine Bihlmayer.

A group of activists is trying to change that. Getting the issue of single-member districts on the ballot. If approved by voters, it would change the structure of Winter Park’s city council to be split into districts, instead of all members being at-large.

“If we had single-member districts, then we’ll be able to take those concerns to a city council member that represents our neighborhood,” said Thompson.

Barbara Chandler says the change wouldn’t only serve the west side.

“Everyone can benefit from having a representative that is connected to their issues and see them very pertinent, see them to be responsive and that is what we’re hoping for,” said Chandler.

On the issue of gentrification, the City of Winter Park says, “Residents are voluntarily selling their properties on the free market. The city has not forced the sale of their properties.”

We asked for the City’s response to this proposed change of the city council structure but have yet to hear back. The issue is expected to be on the ballot next March.