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The People's Republic of Area A

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Now Eggelletion says of incorporation, "It's just not going to happen. I will not support any attempt to make that area into a city." No wonder.

Yet if Major is his own worst enemy, he also knows how to push exactly the right buttons in a community that has often been on the raw end of the deal over the years -- especially when the deal involves Area A's more prosperous eastern and western neighbors. "Hell, Fort Lauderdale de-annexed us to begin with," he says. "Why would we want to return to a city that got rid of us way back when black folk first started moving into this area?"

But if Fort Lauderdale is bad, Plantation is worse, say Area A residents with long memories. Plantation's sins date to 1963, when the city annexed both sides of Highway 441 all the way from Davie Boulevard to Sunrise Boulevard. Carefully avoiding any of the surrounding residential neighborhoods to the east, the city picked off everything that seemed to offer the chance of building a tax base.

"It was the worst kind of cherry-picking," says Hillier, of his own city. "There's no question about it. It was disrespectful and just flat wrong."

But that was just the start. If the intervening years of neglect weren't bad enough, the city fathers in 1989 decided to add gratuitous insult to previous injury. That was the year of the infamous "wall." Under pressure from business owners along the 441 corridor, the city presented something called the "Safe Neighborhood Redevelopment Plan For Gateway District 7." That jargonistic title pretty well reflected the plan's content, which was filled with such suggestions as "thematic areas" and "pedestrian environments" and special lanes "to facilitate vehicular access."

It also suggested building an "eight-foot wall" between the businesses along the east side of 441 and the unincorporated area to the east. The reason? "Merchants along this eastern edge, from operators of restaurants to auto dealerships and produce stores, tell graphic stories about teenagers who live east of them running out with their cash registers, pilfering cases of beer from food stores on a daily basis," according to a redevelopment plan for the area. For good measure the plan also suggested building an additional wall on the west side of 441, to pacify "residents [who] talk about teenagers from the unincorporated area prowling their streets, looking for some place to break into."

For many residents of the unincorporated areas, the coup de gráce was a map that pictured a big black spot over the neighborhood north of Broward Boulevard and east of 441. Above the spot were emblazoned the words "Habitats of Criminals Victimizing the Commercial Portion of the District."

Clarence Wright, vice president of the St. George Homeowners Association, lives in a house that didn't show on the Gateway 7 plan map: Its location was blotted out by the capital C in the word Criminals. Still, when Wright first heard about the wall, he was all for it. "You know, they were talking about closing streets, and I had no problems with that. That's the same thing they do in gated communities. Cuts down on crime."

But then he attended one of the meetings at which the plan was being discussed and heard them "talking as if they'd never set foot in this neighborhood -- and never intended to, either." It put him off.

Has anything in the Plantation attitude toward Area A changed? Apparently not. "They just steal, you know," says a Plantation restaurant owner who didn't want his name used. He's referring to the residents of Area A. "That's why you can't run a business over there [along 441]. You get ripped off."

That attitude is news to Celesson Ertilus, a baker. He doesn't disagree that it's hard to run a business along 441, but it's not because of thieves running wild. It's because "the city of Plantation treats you as if they don't want you to succeed."

Today, the mall where Ertilus' bakery stands is largely empty. On a recent Saturday midafternoon, fewer than a dozen cars were parked in the enormous parking lot for the Westgate Shopping Center on the northwest corner of the intersection. Except for a few small offbeat shops -- Shirley's Salon, Basket Fiesta, Inter-Caribbean Freight, among them -- the lots were empty.

What is the city of Plantation doing to encourage investment in the area? Not much, says Hillier, who two weeks ago organized a march along with several other candidates for the Plantation city commission. (The election will be held next month.) The march, the route of which led along the Highway 441 corridor, was designed to call attention to what Hillier called the city's long-standing neglect of its eastern border.

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Paul Belden

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