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Longview council members want street renamed, but not all residents pleased

By Richard Yeakley
May 20, 2013 at 11 p.m.

Members of the Longview City Council are set to honor one of their own Thursday by renaming a South Longview street in memory of Sidney Bell Willis - although some residents of the street are not happy with the change.

Willis, who died July 15, served three terms representing District 3 and spent more than 40 years with Longview ISD.

The City Council will vote whether to change the name of Sapphire Street, which connects Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Lilly Street, as Sidney Bell Willis Drive.

"Oh my gosh, all of the many great things she did for her district, and she was just a real asset to her district and all of the city of Longview for nine years," said John Sims, District 1 councilman who served with Willis for four years and was one of two council representatives to propose the dedication.

"I really miss her." Sims said. "I think she was good at being a councilwoman."

Kasha Williams, who succeeded Willis as District 3's councilwoman and also proposed the dedication, said Willis had provided counsel during her early years of public service.

"I think it is a positive way to honor all of her contributions to this community, this region, and even the state ... in so many arenas," Williams said. "She was a champion for all of Longview, but specifically for her district."

Before she represented south Longview neighborhoods on the City Council, Willis was an educator. When she ran for office in 2002, she was a retired teacher of 43 years with Longview ISD.

She also was a musician, having served as music minister at St. Mark Christian Methodist Episcopal Church for more than 20 years. She also taught piano lessons.

Sapphire Street is the home to St. Mark CME, where Willis was a faithful member and volunteer until her death.

Diana Casteel, who has pastored the church for eight years, said the church was delighted for the honor and hoped others were too.

"I just pray that everyone will receive this, and accept the renaming of the street as we do, for we feel, as far as the family and the church family, it is a great honor, and pray that everyone takes the same spirit, as well," Casteel said.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said that although two council members proposed this street change, any resident can request a change.

The request then goes to Justin Cure, the information services manager, and staff members who examine it.

The city of Longview Code of Ordinances chapter 91 section 29 says the request must go before the City Council "if the request asks that the street name be changed to the name of an individual, the proposed new street name is the name of a deceased individual of notable achievement."

Another part of the renaming process requires city staff to contact the residents and homeowners on the street.

City staff sent a letter April 2 informing residents of what the proposed change would mean.

"In the event this request is approved, you will be notified of your new address at that time. You will then need to notify your utility service providers, make necessary notifications relative to mail correspondence, and change any visible external street numbers displayed on your property. We will notify the Gregg County Appraisal District and will work with the U.S. Post Office servicing your residence / business concerning this change," the letter read.

The letter also provided contact information if residents wanted to provide feedback to the proposed change.

Many of the residents of Sapphire Street said Monday that while they loved Willis, they were not happy it was their street that would be changed.

"Maybe they can just build a new road somewhere else and name that for her," said Lakendra Vann, 31, who said she had lived her whole life at the same house on Sapphire Street.

Vann said many residents had lived on the street for decades and were less than enthusiastic about having to make the change, despite having fond memories of the woman.

Brandon Reese, 27, who said Willis was a mentor to him as he went through school, said the road was already difficult to find.

"I don't have a problem with them changing a road for her, it just doesn't have to be this one," Reese said.



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