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Developer Drops Julington-Durbin Creek Land Swap Plan

Adam Arendell
Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve borders homes.

A developer is abandoning a controversial land swap involving 403 acres of environmentally sensitive land on Black Hammock Island and a plan to develop a like-size tract in the Julington-Durbin Preserve. Instead, he intends to sell the Black Hammock land to the state for conservation. 

The announcement came in a news release Thursday sent by a spokesman for Eastland, the developer of Bartram Park in southwest Duval County.  

While Eastland had not filed a formal application with the state, the proposed exchange agreement had "generated much discussion in the community" and fierce opposition from environmentalists including the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

A protest against the plan was scheduled for mid July, and a petition opposing the swap had garnered more than 6,300 signatures as of Thursday evening. 

“Based on input we received from various preservation organizations and conservation proponents like former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney and the North Florida Land Trust, we realize that the Preserve is an environmental gem and we have decided not to pursue the exchange further,” said a written statement from Eastland President Tom Dodson . “Instead, we are now exploring the sale of the Black Hammock land to the state of Florida.”

Delaney this summer will join The Fiorentino Group lobbying firm, which counts Dodson among its clients, and he advocated for the land swap on WJCT’s First Coast Connect this month.

The preservation of the Black Hammock land, which is situated along the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and is presently zoned for residential real estate development, has been a priority for area residents as well as preservation groups like the North Florida Land Trust.

Eastland said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection proposed that the state would consider an acquisition of the Black Hammock land, and Eastland has agreed to pursue this path.

“We look forward to working with the state to reach a mutually satisfactory transaction,” said Dodson.

In 2000, Dodson, in collaboration with then-Mayor Delaney, sold 2,000 acres adjacent to Bartram Park to the state and St. Johns River Water Management District to create the Julington-Durbin Preserve. It was part of that land he was seeking to regain and develop before dropping the plan.

In its press release, Eastland also announced it will be building a canoe and kayak launch off Racetrack Road within a year’s time.