Jacksonville, FL (February 26, 2019) — After nearly 10 months of research, meetings and negotiations with various interested parties, Jacksonville City Council passed Councilman Becton’s Bill 2018-271 during a Tuesday night Council meeting on February 26th. The bill was first introduced on April 24, 2018 to improve standards for building better neighborhoods, improving public safety access within those neighborhoods and protecting tax payers from unnecessary expenses incurred from construction. Also included in the bill was the establishment of inter-connectivity requirements for new and existing commercial and office corridors.
“This bill goes back 18 years when I was a founding member and President of Better Baymeadows Inc. Better Baymeadows was a Public – Private Partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and one of our objectives was to reduce curb cuts and to improve the commercial corridor within the Baymeadows area,” Councilman Becton explained. “It is this opportunity today that I am able to help make this objective a reality with bill 2018-271 to include requirements to help make that happen.”
The legislation was an initiative that Councilman Becton identified that was needed to change standards for new higher density neighborhoods and to protect tax payers by updating Subdivision Standards, improve residential streets to make them wider, changing the new road building requirements to construct new roads in phases and establishing new warranties for any right-of-way improvements to protect taxpayers against materials and workmanship.
Most new neighborhoods being built are platted with lot sizes within the 40, 50 and 60 feet. These new lot sizes established a much greater density and create a much more likely situation where cars of friends, family and guests will be parked out on the street. Past policy of roads allowed side streets to be as narrow as 20 feet in width. This situation created public safety issues. If two cars were parked on the opposite sides of those streets, or even if just one emergency vehicles would find those instances unpassable, or at best, highly restrictive. Bill 2018-271 now requires all new neighborhood roads to be a minimum of 24 feet, if any lot size of 40, 50 and 60 feet are present.
Another issue addressed in the bill is the building of new neighborhood roads requiring a two-phase construction process rather than the previous one phase. Councilman Becton’s bill now requires that all new neighborhood roads be built by first installing a single layer of asphalt, then when 80% of the community is constructed or 2-years, the second and final layer of asphalt is installed. In the past, the one phase process had the developer turning over the new roads to the city for acceptance of maintenance before new homes were built. The result of this early turn-over process had the home building process damaging those roads and leaving the tax payer on the hook for their repair. The result of this bill’s change will drastically help improve the outcome, have new roads look like new and save tax payers from those unnecessary expenses.
“The building of roads first came to my attention by constituents within District 11 who were upset that their roads were in poor condition within their new neighborhood, just recently built,” Councilman Becton said. “It was through research for what caused these issues that I began to realize, in Duval County we were doing things differently than many of the counties surrounding us, where they were getting it right.”
The third benefit of the bill as to construction was to codify the warranty of developers and builders to the City of Jacksonville for right-of-way improvements. Where it might be roads and utilities being built, or various other construction processes requiring public right of way improvements, it is now a minimum of 12 months that the work will be required to be warrantied for faulty workmanship, construction, materials and damage done by agents of the applicant to curb and gutters, asphalt pavement, drainage piping, and structures or sidewalks. It is this clarification of our warranties that again will save tax payers from unnecessary expenses and hold others to quality work and assurances.
The last benefit of bill 2018-271 is the requirement of inter-connectivity for new and existing commercial and office properties to connect to one another for easier cross-access movement for travel. This requirement also supports the City’s Comprehensive Plan and improved activity that commercial and office developments today have been implementing successfully for years.
Mixed-use developments where commercial properties have multiple businesses and allow customers to easily move across those properties without having to exit and reenter neighboring properties to go next door is highly beneficial. Inter-connectivity helps reduce access points or curb cuts, improves public safety for pedestrians and bicyclists and enhances the convenience and safety of the general public. Public safety is improved by the elimination of numerous ingress and egress activity along busy roadways and across sidewalks where crash points are reduced.
“The inter-connectivity will promote commerce. It actually promotes reduced liability for those property owners and allows customers to get to where they want to go faster, easier and safer” Councilman Becton added. “I have heard stories, and I, myself, have been affected by leaving one business and having to get back on the busy roadway, only to go home instead, and not wanting to deal with the in and out of busy traffic again.”
“As stated, new developments have been implementing this requirement already,” Councilman Becton said. “As for older commercial areas, it only makes sense to help these areas as well. Without help, property owners have no incentive to cooperate and have shown none. So, it is unrealistic without some type of influence that anything will change.”
During negotiations, there was opposition to making these changes. The impact of these new requirements affected developers, builders, real estate professionals and commercial property owners to name a few. Councilman Becton in working with all these stakeholders, held numerous noticed meetings over the ten-month legislative cycle to ensure that all interested parties were heard, and their concerns addressed. Many of the concerns were resolved by easy fixes, listening and considering alternatives, as well as, insertion of visual flow charts and making compromises to the legislation. There were some requests that required a great deal of research and discussion for what other municipalities were doing before an agreement was reached and all parties were supportive of the bill prior to its passage.
Councilman Becton once joked during a committee meeting, “This bill has accumulated well over 100 files in my digital library along with 13 draft versions, certainly the most, I have had accumulate for any work that I have done on any bill as a council member.”
The bill was to be heard by three COJ Advisory Committees and two assigned Council Committees: Transportation, Energy & Utilities “TEU” Committee and Land Use & Zoning “LUZ” Committee before it would be voted on at City Council. For those advisory committees, it passed unanimously in both, the Subdivision Standards and Policy Advisory Committee on September 11th and the Context Sensitive Streets Committee on September 18th. The Planning Commission approved the bill 7-2, on November 7th. On November 18th, the bill gained the approval of TEU, passing unanimously with the addition of four co-sponsors to the legislation.
Councilman Becton’s bill was almost on to full council but delayed once again being deferred at December’s LUZ meeting whereby Councilman Becton decided to uphold the deferral to hold additional meetings with anyone that had continuing issues.
Over the next two months, Councilman Becton met with several concerned stakeholders on multiple occasions to address any issues. On January 24th, Councilman Becton held a final noticed meeting to share the latest version of the bill, which included the changes he had made and hoped to gain in search for everyone’s support.
Three weeks later after having alleviated issues from final a concerned stakeholder at the LUZ meeting on February 20th, the committee finally approved the bill by a vote of 6-1. It was now on to the final approval at full council scheduled for February 26th.
Councilman Becton shared the following words during the City Council meeting moments before the final vote:
“Before you please find Version 14 of Bill 2018-271.”
“This legislation is important for three reasons: 1) It sets improved standards for ‘Building New Neighborhoods, 2) It improves ‘Public Safety Access’ within those New Neighborhoods, 3) It protects tax payers from unnecessary expenses and repairs incurred from construction within those neighborhoods, and lastly it improves public safety and access within commercial and office corridors.”
“To accomplish those four objectives, this bill provides warranties for work within the city’s Right-of-Ways and for the construction of public facilities within new neighborhoods, it provides within new neighborhoods where lot sizes are 40, 50, and 60 feet wider ancillary roads where higher density communities are a result. It improves the road building process by implementing a two-lift construction process and finally; It helps to implement the comprehensive plan’s objective for “inter-connectivity” for new and existing businesses by eliminating excessive curb cuts and access points that endanger pedestrians, bicyclist and drivers due to potential crash points as a result.”
“This legislation was the work of a great deal of help, collaboration and compromise from various individuals and groups, field trips to new neighborhoods and fire houses over the past year. I certainly would like to stop and say Thank you to all those who have helped me get to this point and provided the many suggestions and recommendations which have achieved a compromise on this bill. For everyone, much appreciation is extended.”
“With that Colleagues, it would be an honor to have your vote for approval!”
That evening, City Council passed 2018-271 unanimously and it was signed into law by Mayor Lenny Curry on March 1st, 2019.