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Northside Jacksonville Peninsula Residents Fight Against New Development

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Claire Heddles
/
WJCT News
Rosemary and Michael Celenza in their front yard on Broward Point peninsula. The pair has been advocating against a proposed zoning change that would allow developers to build more than 200 single-family homes on the peninsula.

Rosemary Celenza bought her home on Broward Point peninsula 15 years ago, after realizing her dream of a waterfront home was impossible in the southern parts of the city where she had been living.

“I had to make some compromises,” Celenza said. “I only had so much money to buy a home, and this was the home that we found on the waterfront.”

Behind the house is grassy lawn, boat dock and sprawling St. Johns River view. In the front yard is a lush garden, and the tropical greenspace across the street is largely undeveloped, 90-acre plots.

Now the owners of that land across the street are asking the City Council for a rezoning, aiming to start the process of building 243 single-family homes on the peninsula. Celenza says her biggest concern with the proposed development is safety.

“This is a dangerous situation, it’s not your typical situation, we’re surrounded by water,” Celenza said. “Adding more people, future residents, making a decision to consciously change the zoning, doesn’t make sense.”

The peninsula currently has just one entrance, with train tracks running across the only road in and out of the neighborhood. Celenza, her husband Michael Celenza, and a group of neighbors have been campaigning against the proposed rezoning and development plans for the past year, raising concerns about increased traffic, a higher risk of flooding, and potentially lower property values for their own homes. The group even founded a non-profit earlier this year opposing the development.

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Credit SCREEN CAPTURE
Property agent Curtis Hart asked the Jacksonville zoning committee to pass the request September 8 as dozens of residents in matching Broward Point Preserve shirts speaking against the proposal

Curtis Hart is the agent for the property owner and said the rezoning is just step one of the proposal. After rezoning, the plan would have to meet other guidelines, which could address some of the residents' concerns, Hart said.

“All of those development requirements we’ll have to meet, and we don’t need to meet them before zoning,” Hart told members of City Council’s zoning committee. “If we can’t meet them, we can’t build.”

The city councilwoman representing the peninsula, Ju’Coby Pittman, this month asked the city’s zoning committee to side with the current residents opposing rezoning earlier. The state representative for the area, Democrat Angie Nixon, also wrote a letter to Council in July opposing the rezoning.

Despite these appeals, and almost two hours of public comment opposing the rezoning at the beginning of September, Jacksonville’s Land Use and Zoning committee voted 4 to 3 last week to recommend that the City Council pass the change.

Councilman Rory Diamond, who supported the rezoning, said his vote came down to the rights of the land’s owners to develop on the land if they so choose.

“We’re asking them to extinguish those property rights and not allow them to do what they’re entitled to do,” Diamond said.

Back on the peninsula, current homeowner Michael Celenza said there are broader considerations at play.

“They have the right to sell, but do they have the right to destroy the environment and destroy an existing neighborhood by putting inferior, out of character homes?” Celenza said.

Most of the homes on the peninsula are on an acre or more of land. The new, proposed development builds homes on much smaller plots.

It’s unclear which way the City Council will fall on the decision Tuesday. Councilman Garrett Dennis, for example, voted to recommend the proposal during the zoning committee meeting, but said that it’s not indicative of how he will vote during the broader city council.

During its meeting Tuesday evening, City Council will also be voting on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and how to spend $141 million in federal COVID relief funds.

Contact Claire Heddles at cheddles@wjct.org, (904) 250 - 0926, or on Twitter at @claireheddles.