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Small development has big problem with no road

SEBRING — Around 2007 there were five houses built off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but with the 2008 real estate bust the Curry Street development ended with no paved road and no utility service leaving the houses uninhabitable and vacant.

At a recent Sebring City Council meeting, Adriana Fernandez said she was trying to find a solution to the problem she has with Curry Street. She wants to live in the house she purchased recently.

Council President Tom Dettman explained that Curry Street is a development that was approved by the city Building Department many years ago, which has five structures (houses). The issue at hand is there are no streets.

After meeting with City Attorney Bob Swaine on Nov. 14, Fernandez met with the owner of nine of the Curry Street lots in hopes of finding a solution, but to no avail.

Fernandez said she has owned the property for a few months. Before purchasing the house, she was told she could get utility service hooked up to it. She noted it would cost her $7,000 to have Duke Energy extend its service to her house.

“There are five houses; complete houses for years and years and nobody can live in any of them,” she said.

But, since there is no road to the houses she cannot get a certificate of occupancy from the city.

City staff has identified four options for the Curry Street issue, according to council agenda item:

• Do nothing. This option does not offer a solution to the problem and maintains the status quo.

• Have the city front the cost of engineering, permitting and construction of Curry Street and place a special assessment on each lot owner in an attempt to recover the costs.

• Split the cost of engineering and road construction equally between the city and property owners.

• The city pay 100% of the engineering, permitting and road construction costs.

Councilman Lenard Carlisle said if the city does nothing, nothing is going to happen. He asked Fernandez if the other owners are willing to pay any of the cost of the road?

Fernandez said the man who owns the nine lots said he is not willing to pay $10,000 (for the road construction) for each parcel.

Swaine said the city could levy a special assessment. “You can impose it, but whether you ever collect it is another question,” he said.

The discussion centered on splitting the estimated $100,000 cost among 20 lots with each property owner paying $5,000, but there are only five houses on the dirt road. The other 15 lots are assessed at only $700 so it would be cost prohibitive for the property owners trying to sell the lots.

The city’s proposed Curry Street project shows a cul-de-sac at the end of the street so city vehicles can turnaround to exit the street and a proposed location for a retention pond.

All the lots were purchased after the real estate debacle so theoretically everybody should have known this was a bad situation, it was noted by council.

Before making a decision, council directed staff to obtain an appraisal of the lots’ worth after improvements (the construction of a paved road) so they would be build-able lots.

The Curry Street houses and lots are located one block south of the intersection of MLK Boulevard and Cemetery Road.

Battle of the Bands spreads comfort and joy to area ERs

LAKE PLACID — Santa and his elves started the Battle of the Bands, Inc. Toy Run early on Friday morning beginning with AdventHealth Lake Placid. From there, the merry makers worked their way back towards the North Pole stopping to bring toys to Highlands Regional Medical Center, Sunny Hills of Sebring, and AdventHealth Sebring. The group dropped off toys for AdventHealth Wauchula at the Sebring location as well.

The Battle of the Bands is a 501 C3 veteran’s services charity. The charity has been doing toy drives for five years, said President Anna Marie Feeney. This year a toy run was implemented to include all four emergency rooms.

Feeney knew there were many toy drives throughout the county to serve families. After some thought, she realized that no one was serving the emergency rooms. Unlike a toy drive that gives presents one time per year, the toys dropped off at the hospitals are to be given out throughout the year to kids visiting the emergency room for comfort.

“This is to help children in distress,” Feeney said. “When kids are sick or hurt and crying, it’s hard for the medical staff to treat them. The same is true if they come in with a sick parent, they need something to help calm them.”

Chaplain Dean Kouragian of the Battle of the Bands played Santa’s helper for the day. He said he used to keep teddy bears in his law enforcement cruiser for the same reason. Julia Kouragian was another elf who had her work cut out for her, hauling toys to the emergency room lobby. Santa was played by Billy Griffis and he sat with many in the administration personnel and event the entire emergency room staff.

Regina Story of the AdventHealth Sebring Foundation thanked the group for bringing the toys for the children. Christen Johnson, director for the AdventHealth Foundation if Lake Placid, Sebring and Wauchula, was equally pleased with the donations.

“Christmas is a season of giving and we are thankful for the support and love that Battle of the Bands and many other organizations provide to our patients here at AdventHealth,” she said. “Nobody wants to be in the hospital during the Christmas season and the joy they share lifts the spirits of our patients during their time of great need. “

Feeney said the toy drive collected many toys but the monetary donations from the Power of One campaign with Dollar General really vamped up donations. Feeney put together a video for social media that showed one dollar yielding one toy to one child resulting in one smile.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said Megan Padelford, patient access supervisor. “When a patient is scared, it’s nice to know that Santa left them a present.”

Feeney promised the hospital staff the toy run would be an annual event.

Notre Dame Cathedral to miss first Christmas in centuries

PARIS (AP) — Notre Dame kept Christmas going even during two world wars — a beacon of hope amid the bloodshed.

Yet an accidental fire in peacetime finally stopped the Paris cathedral from celebrating Midnight Mass this year, for the first time in over two centuries.

As the lights stay dim in the once-invincible 855-year-old landmark, officials are trying hard to focus on the immediate task of keeping burned out Notre Dame ‘s spirit alive in exile through service, song and prayer.

It has decamped its rector, famed statue, liturgy and Christmas celebrations to a new temporary home pending the restoration works, just under a mile away, at another Gothic church in Paris called Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.

And there it will remain, as works slowly progress to rebuild the cathedral after the April 15 fire destroyed its lead roof and spire and was moments away from engulfing its two stone towers.

“This is the first time since the French Revolution that there will be no midnight Mass (at Notre Dame),” cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet told The Associated Press.

There was even a Christmas service amid the carnage of World War I, Chauvet noted, “because the canons were there and the canons had to celebrate somewhere,” referring to the cathedral’s clergy. During World War II, when Paris was under Nazi occupation, “there was no problem.” He said that to his knowledge, it was only closed for Christmas in the period after 1789, when the anti-Catholic French revolutionaries turned the monument into “a temple of reason.”

Christmas-in-exile at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois this year will be a history-making moment.

“We have the opportunity to celebrate the Mass outside the walls, so to speak... but with some indicators that Notre Dame is connected to us,” Chauvet said.

Those indicators include a wooden liturgical platform that has been constructed in the Saint-Germain church to resemble Notre Dame’s own. A service will be led at midnight on Dec. 24 by Chauvet to a crowd of faithful, including many who would normally worship in the cathedral, accompanied by song from some of Notre Dame’s now-itinerant choir.

The cathedral’s iconic Gothic sculpture “The Virgin of Paris,” from which some say Notre Dame owes its name, is also on display in the new annex.

The 14th-century masterpiece, which measures around two meters (six feet) and depicts Mary and baby Jesus, has come to embody the officials’ message of hope following the fire.

“It’s a miraculous virgin. Why? Because at the time of the fire, the vault of the cathedral completely crashed. There were stones everywhere, but she was spared. She could have naturally received the vault on her head and have been completely crushed,” Chauvet said.

He recalled the moment on the night of the fire when he discovered it was saved, as he was holding hands with French President Emmanuel Macron on the cathedral’s forecourt. Around midnight as the flames subsided, they were finally let inside to look. Chauvet pointed and exclaimed to Macron: “Look at the Virgin, she is there!”

He said later that Notre Dame’s workmen on the ground implored him to not remove the statue from the cathedral, saying that during the restoration “we need it. She protects us.”

Chauvet said having it nearby for Christmas is comforting.

”She lived very much in Notre Dame. She watched the pilgrims, all the 35,000 visitors a day ... It keeps us going,” Chauvet said.

Another reason for hope: Since November, after months in the dark, the facade of the cathedral is being lit up after dusk for the first time since the fire. Tourists over the festive period can now see the famed gargoyles and stone statues at night in their full illuminated splendor from the adjacent bridges, although the forecourt is still closed.

Cathedral officials carefully chose Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois as the new temporary home because of its proximity to Notre Dame, just next to the Louvre, allowing ease of movement for clerics who lived near the cathedral. Also, because of its prestigious history.

It was once a royal church that boasted among its faithful French kings, in the days when they lived in the nearby Louvre Palace. The kings, Chauvet explained, would simply cross the esplanade to come and attend Mass.

Since September, the church has been welcoming the cathedral’s flock each Sunday.

Though Notre Dame has moved liturgically to a new home, Notre Dame will always remain Paris’ cathedral so long as the bishop’s physical chair, or “cathedra” doesn’t move.

Derived from the Greek word for “seat,” a cathedral’s entire identity technically boils down to the presence of a chair.

”The cathedra is at the cathedral and so it remains Notre Dame Cathedral, which is the cathedral in the heart of Paris,” Chauvet said.

It is not only the faithful who have been displaced since April’s blaze.

Notre Dame was home to a vibrant 160-strong choir-school, which provided singers for each of the cathedral’s some 1,000 annual services. Midnight Mass at Christmas was always a special event in the year: One of the rare times the entire choir sung together and used the cathedral’s famed acoustics to their fullest.

Instead of disbanding, this now-homeless chorus of singers, ranging in age from 6 to 30, has too honed an upbeat message and decided to continue on in a divided form. Different sections of the choir put on concerts in churches, such as Saint-Eustache and Saint-Sulpice, in Paris and beyond. On Christmas Eve, its members will sing at various yuletide events, including at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, as well as, bizarrely, at the Russian Circus.

But don’t mention the term choir-in-exile to one of the choir’s directors, Henri Chalet.

”I’d rather use ‘beyond the walls’... ‘Exile’ brings it back to sadness. Obviously, there is a lot of sadness and desolation for us to no longer be in our second home. But there is also a lot of hope because it is only a phase,” Chalet said.

In the grand scheme of things, five or six years of restoration for an 855-year-old cathedral “is nothing at all,” Chalet reasoned. Macron declared in the days after the blaze it would take a mere five years to restore the cathedral — a timeline many experts deem unrealistic.

Notre Dame choir singer Mathilde Ortscheidt, 29, left a little more space for melancholy as she regretted her absence at last year’s Midnight Mass.

”To think that I was ill last Christmas...thinking that I would go again this year with no problem!” she said.

On the first rehearsal she attended after the blaze, she said she “felt such a pain and such sadness” because the cathedral was where she began as a singer.

For the singers, the unique acoustics produced by the cathedral’s massive dimensions are sorely missed.

”When we balanced it right, it was the most beautiful feeling of just hearing it resonate through this enormous space,” Ortscheidt said.

Despite having “to walk around a lot now,” people have got used to the choir’s new lifestyle, she said, and it was just a matter of time before there will be song in the cathedral once again.

In the meantime, “the important thing for us is that we keep on singing and doing the music. That’s what brings us together.”

Thomas Adamson can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ThomasAdamson_K

Toys for girls and boys through community efforts

AVON PARK — Many children will have new toys thanks to the efforts of Highlands Ridge residents and volunteers from the Church Service Center.

Parents and children stopped by Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church Thursday morning to get a welcome and free toys.

Church Service Center Director John Jeffo said it’s a big effort every year at Highlands Ridge. The residents work on it all year long and this year they wrapped up 350 toys.

With a cataloged listing of all the wrapped gifts, parents were able to pick out the toys they believe would be appropriate for their children. Church Service Center volunteers assisted parents with the selection of toys, which were arranged by age on a string of tables.

The volunteers welcomed Caretta Washington and her niece, Audrey Fogle. Washington said she appreciated the efforts of those who worked on the toy drive.

In the morning they were very busy, Jeffo said, but it slowed down by midday.

The remaining toys will go to the Boys & Girls Club, he said.

Last year the center was going to do the toy giveaway over two days, but all the toys were gone in the first day.

“It was not as busy as last year, but it was awful cold this morning [Thursday],” Jeffo noted. “There were 50 people to start with and then they filtered in.

“Maybe the economy is better?” he said.

Next year the center plans to have toys for older children and will do the toy give away at the Church Service Center’s new location at the old Jahna Concrete office on Railroad Street, Jeffo said.