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Jax Lawmakers Discuss Blight Solutions At Special Meeting

Cyd Hoskinson
Of the around two dozen houses on Timber Lane in Jacksonville's Arlington neighborhood, at least four are either vacant or abandoned.

The wheels were set into motion Monday for the creation of a special committee whose job it will be to figure out what to do with the more than 20,000 vacant and abandoned properties in Jacksonville.

At a meeting to introduce the idea to the public, City Councilman Bill Gulliford said he wants to create an umbrella organization that can start working on the problem now.

“I think that we’ve got to start somewhere and recognize that we have a significant issue not with just abandoned homes but with neighborhoods,” he said. “I think if we don’t pay attention to our declining neighborhoods, we’re going to have a serious problem.”

Unfortunately no one will be able to do anything until the definition of “abandoned” is sorted out.  While that might sound easy, mortgage consultant Jim Satterwhite said, it’s anything but.

“Particularly in this area you have folks that live here seasonally so they leave their properties vacant," Satterwhite said. "You could walk up to the property and think for a moment that it might be abandoned when in fact it’s not, just someone’s just not there at that current time.”

And then there’s the question of ownership. According to Satterwhite, that’s where the banks come in.

“They have to be involved. They absolutely have to be involved," he said. "Without them and the information they can bring to the table relative to the intent of their properties in these communities, you have nothing to leverage off of.”

Another meeting will be held in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, Eunice Barnum, president of the Sherwood Forest-Paradise Park Community Association on Jacksonville’s Northside, said there’s one thing that could be done right now to improve blighted neighborhoods and that is to hire people who live there to start cleaning things up.

“They could keep the overgrown lawns cut, the grass, the ditches, whatever," Barnum said. "And if you do that across Jacksonville, a lot of the blight, a lot of the ugliness will go away.”

You can follow Cyd Hoskinson on Twitter @cydwjctnews.

Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.