Forgotten community

Ottaray residents are taking the first steps to improving their community, which some feel has been forgotten.

Approximately 40 people gathered in the Monarch Elementary School cafeteria Tuesday evening for a meeting concerning the future of the Ottaray community. The meeting was organized by Kacie Petrie, who represents District 6 on the Union County Council. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the community and involve residents in a long-term plan for the application for and implementation of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Village Renaissance program. Village Renaissance is a revitalization program which promotes sustainability and conservation by improving infrastructure, physical appearance, public facilities, property values, safety and neighborhood pride. Through the CDBG, there is a potential for the Ottaray community to receive $1 million in funding by way of two separate $500,000 grants.

“Someone brought up the question, ‘Why Ottaray?’ My question was ‘Why not?’” Petrie said.

Petrie added that she is eager to begin this project, which has been a top priority of hers since she was elected to county council.

“People tell me, ‘It’s like everybody just forgot about this community,’” Petrie said, adding she is ready to change that with the help of community members.

Petrie walked door-to-door in the community Monday evening reminding residents about Tuesday’s meeting until her trip was cut short by a thunderstorm. She said with all things considered she was pleased with the turnout of Ottaray residents and other concerned citizens.

Petrie led a presentation to explain to the community what the program is, give them examples of potential renovations offered and inform them of what steps to take next. The next step after the community meeting is for residents to complete surveys and give feedback about their personal concerns for the area. Surveys were distributed at the meeting, and Petrie plans to go door-to-door giving them out to ensure every resident has a voice in the planning process.

“You know the problems of that neighborhood better than I do,” she told those in attendance.

The surveys include questions about household income, water and sewer services at each residence and existing problems within the community. A sheet is also included to allow residents to write suggestions for improvements, neighborhood safety and neighborhood recreation.

Petrie then gave examples of renovations for which the grant funding could be used, such as water drainage, sidewalks, street lights and call boxes on street corners which are directly connected to 911.

During the community forum portion of the meeting, several residents shared their views about the project and voiced concerns. Issues mentioned included water drainage, recreation and the addition of guard rails and speed bumps to improve public safety.

“This is so exciting to me, I could just hug and kiss Kacie!” exclaimed Beverly Morris, who has been a resident of Ottaray for 48 years. “I love that neighborhood because I grew up there, but I have seen it go to the dogs.

“You get discouraged because you might hear the county is going to do something, but they never do,” Morris added. “They paved the roads in 1988 and haven’t been back since. We thought, ‘this is the start of something,’ but they never came back to do anything else.”

Morris said there is a need in the community for guard rails and something to reduce the speed of traffic in certain areas.

Perry Enlow — a former Ottaray resident — was also in attendance.

“I don’t live there now, but I was born there — on Third Street,” Enlow said. “It’s hard to believe anything is going to happen, but I hope so. If it does, I’m moving back there because I own a house and trailer there.”

Water drainage is one major concern of Enlow’s.

“We used to have to get out there and dig ditches around our garden to keep the water from coming down the hill and washing it away,” he said. “If there is a committee that has anything to do with drainage or sidewalks or any infrastructure, I sure wouldn’t mind being on it.”

Other improvements he would like to see include sidewalks, more lighting, litter control and more opportunity for community recreation.

“The county has spent money on recreation at every section of the county, but not Ottaray,” Enlow added. “Ottaray has been forgotten when it comes to spending money or doing anything — at least that’s the way it looks to me.”

Petrie presented the following proposed schedule:

• Community meeting — March 2011

• Household surveys — March-April 2011

• Outline proposed activities — April-May 2011

• Apply for planning grant — July-September 2011

• Planning activities begin (6-12 months to develop plan) — 2012

• Project implementation (will take 2-4 years to complete) — 2013-2014

“It’s kind of a long term plan, but this is where we start,” Petrie said.

Robbie Moody — senior planner for Catawba Regional Council on Governments — also spoke, telling residents they would be an integral part of the planning process. He also mentioned one requirement of the grant is the existence of a community group which meets on a regular basis, such as a neighborhood watch program.

Those involved agreed to discuss the formation of such a group at the annual Ottaray reunion held for past and present residents of the community. This year’s reunion will be held June 4 at Monarch Elementary.

By Derik Vanderford, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times