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Ire fuels petitions over MLK street

In April, city officials lamented low voter turnout in the municipal election. With one City Council race on the ballot, just 490 people went to the polls, or about 7 percent of registered voters.

This week, the political climate in Zephyrhills is anything but apathetic.

After a controversial vote Oct. 27 by the council to rename Sixth Avenue for Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 400 people have signed a petition to block the change.

"It's significant enough to them," said council president Lance Smith, who voted for the change. "They feel mobilized, and they've got a cause."

A second petition seeks the recall of Smith, Cathi Compton, Celia Graham and Liz Geiger, who all voted yes. Only Clyde Bracknell opposed.

That petition is not likely to have any impact because recall drives are subject to arduous specifications.

But the stack of papers at Goin' Postal, a Fifth Avenue shipping store where the petitions started, bears the signatures and addresses of 380 people. More petition papers are being circulated around town, store owner Marcus Price said.

The arguments against renaming the street are many and varied. Some people don't want the hassle of changing their address. Some, including Bracknell, object to disrupting the city's numbered street grid. Others worry about an impact on property values and businesses.

Marvin Matteson, president of K & M Travel on Fifth Avenue, said Tuesday he isn't worried about any financial fallout. He said he's just discouraged by the racial tension the issue has unearthed.

"The whole thing is polarizing people," Matteson said. "It's too bad we can't come up with some positive stuff."

Joe Abed, who owns Manolo's Italian Restaurant, agreed.

"I think it should be resolved peacefully in a civilized manner," Abed said, also adding that he doesn't expect his business to be affected.

Jim Tenney signed the petition, but not because he objects to the name change.

"My whole general philosophy in life says that's a good thing," said Tenney, who owns Tenney's Custom Saddlery downtown. "But I think they rushed it through a little bit."

Smith conceded that point.

"I'll admit that probably we did rush things," he said.

But he said he thinks the outcome _ and the wave of opposition _ would most likely have been the same.

"Maybe in hindsight we should have put some type of committee together to look at it and come up with a recommendation," he said. "But I don't know that that committee would have come up with anything either."

Price said he plans to put the petition on the agenda of a future council meeting. But it won't be ready for the next meeting _ on Monday _ because he wants time to gather more signatures and support.

When that happens, Smith said residents will have the council's attention. "We do have to look at it," Smith said. "I don't know that it's going to change anything. Anything you name after (King) is going to have opposition."

Even so, Smith said he's still surprised at residents' reactions.

"I had no idea that there would be a groundswell like that," he said. "I just wish I lived on the street. I would just say, "Look I live there and I don't have a problem with it.' "