The St. Johns Riverkeeper is lending support to a group of residents who oppose the rezoning of more than 5,300 acres of timberland on Jacksonville’s Southside to allow for future development.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Donna Herrin drove Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman and Advocacy Director Shannon Blankinship through Sweetwater, a Southside neighborhood adjacent to the two plots of land that owner Estuary LLC wants to rezone from agricultural to low-density residential. The 8.5 mile stretch of land is east of I-295, south of J. Turner Butler Boulevard and north of State Road 9B.
About half of the land in question is made up of wetlands, and Rinaman worries if the area is developed, which would be possible if the proposed rezoning is approved, those valuable environmental assets will be damaged.
Wetlands help reduce pollution, they decrease flooding during storm events like hurricanes and they even absorb and store carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas behind climate change.
Even if the proposed rezoning is approved (a process that could take months), developers wouldn’t be allowed to build on the wetlands themselves. However, they could build on the uplands, which are scattered between and around the wetlands, and residents and conservationists like the Riverkeeper are worried that could cause irreparable damage.
“These are new times in the state of Florida. We have a governor who’s focusing on resiliency, and as we know in Jacksonville, resiliency’s not just a coastal thing. There’s inland impacts,” Rinaman said. “So we want to make sure all the agencies involved are paying close attention to this and other developments that have a high impact to our extremely vulnerable wetlands.”
A similar scene is playing out in the Maxville area of Jacksonville’s Westside around Black Creek. A proposed land use change there (2019-309) would make way for a new 5,000 home subdivision and residents worry it will impact wetlands and the tributaries that feed Black Creek.
Blankinship said developing in environmentally beneficial green spaces like these runs counter to the City’s recent efforts to defend itself against sea level rise and future storms and could make flooding and nutrient pollution worse in Duval County.