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Spotlight shined on racial division

It's not every year that national news outlets bring their satellite trucks to town and hundreds of people walk in picket lines around City Hall.

But it's not every year that a Florida community changes its mind about naming a landmark for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Zephyrhills saw a slew of activity in 2004 _ sweeping annexations, multiple hurricanes, a fiery election season _ but what defined the year was the saga of Sixth Avenue.

After the City Council renamed the road for the civil rights icon in late 2003, amid a swirl of controversy, the issue faded but never died. City Manager Steve Spina convened a unity group to address racial divisions, and the controversy loomed in the background of King Day celebrations.

April's city elections brought it back for real. Two candidates filed to run out of opposition to the street renaming.

One of them, Gina King, was elected, and she moved quickly to get the original name restored. Two other council members supported her in the first of two votes.

Two weeks stood before the final vote, and supporters of the King name mobilized. They gathered every day in the parking lot of City Hall, carrying signs that read "We shall overcome. We believe in his dream," and "King vs. King. One giveth, the other taketh away."

The protests drew up-close attention from local media as well as CNN, ABC News and the New York Times. People of all walks participated: young and old, black, white and Hispanic.

City Hall was packed again in the meeting that finally cemented the return to Sixth Avenue. After hearing from about 20 members on both sides of the issue, council members compromised on hanging honorary signs for the civil rights leader; only Gina King was opposed.

In the aftermath, the city hosted diversity workshops for employees, council members and residents.

Zephyrhills fared well during the summer's hurricanes. Mobile home residents were told to evacuate ahead of Charley, Frances and Jean, making Zephyrhills High a safe haven for hundreds of elderly people and families. In the end, only a couple of houses and some power lines were severely damaged.

Growth and development continued to flow into the city, culminating with the annexation in December of more than 1,000 acres, all slated for residential subdivisions and commercial centers.

Rural areas now occupied by dairy land, horse farms and multiacre homesteads soon will be dense with homes and shopping centers. The changes are not without opposition. Residents in the booming areas frequently expressed concern about having to suddenly welcome thousands of new neighbors.

The city took steps to keep the growth in check. Council members set a minimum width for home lots of 60-feet, allowing for 50 feet in certain cases.

It also put in place some new amenities. A modular skateboard park opened at Krusen Field, and in March, the Police Department moved into its new station on Eighth Street. The $2.6-million, 16,000-square-foot facility is named for former police Chief Robert Howell.

Betty and Dan Morauski watch TV as Dawn Partridge naps at the Zephyrhills High School shelter on Sept. 26 as Hurricane Jeanne passes through the area.

Elaine Jones of Lakeland, holding a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mae Pickett, of Zephyrhills walk along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Zephyrhills on April 29. They were protesting city efforts to change the name back to Sixth Avenue. Their efforts ultimately failed.

Mike Morin, 19, of Zephyrhills makes a difficult move in a transition between ramps at the new Zephyrhills Skate Park on June 25. Within a week of the skateboard park's opening, more than 250 people turned in forms to the city so they could have access to the park. The skateboard park opened at Krusen Field.