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Jacksonville, FL (July 17, 2019) — Councilman Becton hosted a community workshop to discuss several large-scale land use Bills 2019-424 and 2019-425 to address concerns of residents. The bills were filed on June 6th to propose land use changes for two adjacent properties in District 11 that would be approved for their transmittal only for review by state agencies only. Interest in these large-scale land use changes began to circulate quickly after their introduction. As a result, Councilman Becton decided to organize the public workshop to provide residents a forum to interact with the property owner or its representatives to provide information and help better understand the purpose of these land use designations.

“The objective tonight, as it’s always been, is to get you, the people, accurate information,” said Councilman Becton. “Not speculation. Nothing but the facts. And once we go over the facts, I’m here to help you understand the process.”

The meeting was held on July 17th at the Southeast Regional Library. It started at 6:00 p.m. and nearly 100 people were in attendance including several media outlets. Mikey White with the Parc Group and Paul Harden were the two main presenters at the community meeting and spoke on behalf of the landowner. Kristen Reed, Chief of Community Planning with COJ’s Planning and Development Department also attended the meeting to answer questions about the two bills in relations to planning.

Both 2019-424 and 2019-425 are transmittal bills for two different areas in District 11. According to the legislation, 2019-424 is an “ordinance transmitting a proposed large-scale revision to the future land use map in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan to change the future land use designation” from Agriculture to Low Density Residential (LDR) on about 2,800 acres located North of Phillips Highway and East of E-Town Parkway.

Bill 2019-425 is also an “ordinance transmitting a proposed large-scale revision to the future land use map in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan to change the future land use designation” from Agriculture to LDR for the roughly 2,500 acres located on the East side of I-295, North of 9B and South of JTB.”

If the bills are approved by City Council, they will be transmitted “through the 28 State’s Expedited State Review Process for amendment review to the 29 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, as the State Land Planning Agency, the Northeast Florida Regional Council, the Florida Department of Transportation, the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State’s Bureau of Historic Preservation, the Florida Department of Education, and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

“Often times these kinds of workshops are for a project that is ready to break ground immediately. That’s not what this is,” White said. “Estuary LLC’s intent here is to participate actively as a landowner with the city to acknowledge that between now and 2040, portions of this land have the potential to be developed.”

No projects are currently planned for the two strips of land, however, the property owner, Estuary, LLC, is giving the community notice that they may develop their property in the future. The transmittal land use changes still need to be reviewed by multiple agencies, and the planning for anything further could take years since a good portion of the property is made up of wetlands.

“It is important that land of this size targeted for future development go thru this review process,” Councilman Becton explained. “The City and State need time to understand the lands impact to the region and what is needed to support this growth by our city and state regarding infrastructure needs. Transportation including roads and highways, plus expansion of utilities like electric, water and sewer is evaluated putting the affected agency on notice for the future.”

The idea of developing within the wetlands and flood plain area and swamps sparked much of the community’s concern. The applicant’s representatives stated that about 50 percent of the Eastury land is most likely undevelopable.

“Many of our neighborhoods were built in swamps — the one I live in, actually,” Councilman Becton explained in a Florida Times Union interview. “We have the expertise to know what land needs to be set aside and how to take water and move it into the places it needs to go.”

As of right now, Harden or White, nor the Property Owner knows exactly how much of each property that can even be developed. “Until they go out and survey the property and identify the wetlands, we don’t know what’s useful. This determination and process will take anywhere from five to seven years to complete,” said Harden.

Residents also feared that development in either of the areas could cause more harm to the environment and create additional problems in the future. According to the Florida Times Union article, some have claimed “the development could harm the health of Pablo Creek, which crosses the northern part of Estuary’s land, and the nameless streams in the southern end that drain into Big Davis Creek and Julington Creek.” District 11 constituent Donna Herrin expressed her concerns in a letter to the Planning Department, writing; “an algae bloom problem already exists in our waterways due to runoff.”

Herrin attended the meeting and was one of the main audience members participating in the Q & A portion of the workshop. Some of the questions asked during the two-hour meeting ranged from “how do you plan on addressing the rising sea level” to “what will you do differently from previous developers to prevent future harm to the environment?”

Harden and White explained that projects today are engineered differently than it was 50 years ago, and as more knowledge and information become available, the engineering and plans will change.

“We can’t say what developers in 20 years will do because we don’t know what they will know then,” said Harden. “But we are smarter now than they were in the past. We know about flood zones, buffers and so on, which allows us to plan and prevent additional problems from occurring, unlike before.”