by Ginger Broomes
This year, Orange City Manager Mike Kunst began having monthly meetings of key City staff, as a way to get together about city beautification and what each department is doing.
Kunst, along with staff from Public Works, Parks, Code Enforcement, Economic Development, and Planning and Community Development, meet to discuss ongoing and planned projects for citywide improvements.
February’s meeting covered hot-button topics like drainage, litter and substandard structures.
Kelvin Knauf, the Director of Planning and Community Development, gave the latest stats on the progress of cleaning up abandoned properties throughout the city. He said last year there were 11 homes demolished, and so far, there have been 19 taken care of this year, with and additional 13 on the list.
“Covid kept us from demoing more last year,” Knauf said.
He also addressed empty, overgrown lots, stating that they are mowing 299 weedy lots beginning March 1st, depending on the weather. Last year the City spent $40,000 on upkeep of empty lots, and expect to spend double that this year, as the mowing will be more frequent.
Code Enforcement goes hand in hand with abandoned homes, but few people may know that the department doesn’t just deal with these issues, but also with removing for sale signs along utility poles, using up a significant amount of the department’s time.
“Sometimes we’ll spend four hours in a day removing nothing but signs,” Code Enforcement Officer John Dee Taylor said. “And then they go right back behind us and put them back up.”
Then of course there are the substandard homes that don’t meet code.
“There are a lot of good people that take good care of their properties, take pride. But there are a lot who don’t,” Taylor said. The group cited success stories like the Cove – who have consistently reported abandoned structures and have kept the areas cleaned up.
In the Cove area, fencing is now complete around the former site of the old Cove school. The plan is to build a small recreational area, but it will have to be done in phases.
James Lawrence, Public Works Service Manager, said a playground would be part of another phase to follow the fencing, as it is $50,000 for a small one.
Meanwhile, there are improvements going on at existing parks in the City. Lawrence said they are improving Lion’s Den park by adding brick columns to the new pavilion, and they plan to resurface the parking lot. There is also the new sidewalk at Navy Park, continuing work on the Riverside Pavilion, and Northway Park’s new trail has just been completed. Lawrence said they are looking at putting in benches at that park, and planning to resurface the tennis court at Memorial Field.
Simmons Drive, Green Avenue and Dupont are the focus of a clean-up project with multiple agencies involved. Mike Marcantel, with Streets and Drainage, said his department is in the process of cutting all of the shoulders to grade, as some shoulders are 6 to 8 inches higher than the road, causing the road to become a ditch when it rains.
“We’re cleaning the ditches, going through the neighborhoods, getting the trash out of the ditches, and the limbs,” Marcantel said. Cooper’s Gulley concrete ditch - the biggest drainage project along Simmons - will get ¾ of the way to Navy Park, before jumping to 6th Street and then back to 3rd Street, joining the line in Navy Park. He also said that the Greenway ditch - between Meeks Drive and 87 - has engineering in process to concrete-line that drainage ditch.
The City wastewater treatment plant has been rewrapped and painted, according to Assistant Engineer of Public Works, James Ingram. This week, his department is beginning the process of rebuilding the interiors of lift stations throughout Orange, and will follow up with exterior brush cleanup, and privacy fencing as budget allows.
“We’re having trouble with vandalism (at the lift stations). Community involvement is what we’re trying to get. If you see anything, call police,” he said. Equipment sabotage in these stations has made various stations fail to work properly, and can cause issues like sewage backing up into homes.
The group said Orange PD has officers stationed at problem locations to catch litterbugs. This is a constant complaint to the City and throughout social media. Kunst said the City of Orange has also been focusing litter cleanup on Allie Payne, Simmons, MLK and Bob Hall, to name just a few. Their focus on littering will also continue to be on 16th Street, once TXDOT finishes the road resurfacing there. Kunst stated that the City did have money set back for a 16th Street beautification project, once TXDOT was finished.
Leigh Anne Dallas with Economic Development wanted to remind citizens that money is there for existing or new businesses to improve infrastructure.
“Things like repaving a parking lot, or signs, you can apply for grant and get some of that reimbursement. That’s what it’s there for. It’s a good resource for people to use, and it doesn’t have to be a $500k project. They just have to call.”
There are many good things going on in Orange – whether you can see them or not. The goal of these monthly meetings is to bring them all together. A lot of formerly substandard housing is being rehabbed by the owners, instead of torn down. Drainage and littering are continually being worked on. And although officials are working to counter the negative issues, community involvement is key.
“By coming to the City Council meetings, you are so much more informed about the good things going on,” said Dallas. “We want to continue to highlight the good things.”
“Everyone in Orange needs to have some skin in the game,” said Taylor. “Let’s all work together. If you see something, report it. If we don’t see it (littering), we can’t do anything about it. If we have to go to court, then that’s what we’ll do.
“We (the City) can’t do it, but if you see it happening, we’ll lead you through the process and if you want to be a witness. If we can start catching these people and word gets out that we’re prosecuting, then maybe that will help,” Taylor added.
If Orange citizens see a broken light, they are encouraged to call Entergy. If you see someone littering, or someone at a lift station that shouldn’t be there, call the OPD nonemergency number at 883-1026. Need help in improving the look of your business? Call the EDC at 883-1077 to see if you qualify for a grant. Limbs in your ditches? Know the route of the grapple truck, which runs every week, and whose schedule is on the city website, along with the guidelines – such as putting your debris out the weekend before your scheduled route. The schedule is at https://www.orangetexas.gov/260/Public-Works.
“The only way we’re going to make a generational difference,” said Kunst, “Is if people have pride in their property. Instill pride early on.”
“There’s a lot of big-picture things going on.”