A zoning workshop on Jacksonville’s Southside got heated Wednesday night as residents voiced their concerns over 5,300 acres of timberland that could be rezoned to allow for development.
The two strips of land are east of I-295, south of J. Turner Butler Boulevard and north of State Road 9B. They stretch about 8.5 miles north to south.
“There is no development plan on either of these two pieces of property,” Mike White of the PARC group told a crowd gathered at the Southeast Regional Library for the community zoning workshop Wednesday. White was speaking on behalf of the land owners.
“Oftentimes these kinds of workshops are for a project that is ready to break ground immediately. That's not what this is,” he 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.”
Still, residents at the meeting were worried existing infrastructure will be strained, bad traffic will be made worse and wildlife and the environment will be harmed.
White acknowledged that if this rezoning is approved, development could begin immediately, theoretically.
The rezoning process could take months, according to District 11 City Councilman Danny Becton, who organized Wednesday’s workshop.
“This transmittal, if it gets approved by Council, basically goes to Tallahassee, goes through these nine reviews, and they all come in — and it could come back approved or not approved or approved with conditions — but usually it takes about three to six months for that to happen,” he explained. “So the objective tonight, as it's always been for me on these workshops, is to get you, the people, to give you accurate information.”
Even if the rezoning is approved, much of the two plots is undevelopable wetlands, which are federally and state regulated. White said only 30% to 40% of the land is actually developable.
But residents and environmental activists are concerned developing the areas around those wetlands could cut off drainage and contribute to algae blooms, which are already a problem in the area.
Becton told residents the city is making environmental preservation a priority, pointing to a 2,300-acre undeveloped plot north of the land in question that’s going to be preserved.
But the critics say there’s already too much development in the area, especially all the new apartment complexes. Resident George Dwelle pointed to the Oasis at Town Center, a new 328-unit complex.
“That's 500 cars, and there's one way in and one way out. Who in their right mind… What kind of planning is that?” Dwelle pleaded with Becton to an outburst of applause.
“You’re talking about things in the past,” Becton said. “I can only deal with things in the current. The things that I have control over.”
“That’s why we’re afraid of this,” Dwelle interjected.
“But you can’t be afraid of growth because growth is going to happen,” Becton said. “If you have kids, your kids have grandkids, they have to have a place to live. If you want them to live in Jacksonville, like I do, they have to have houses.”
Becton said he hears this same concern about an overabundance of apartment complexes from a lot of his constituents, a phenomenon he refers to as “multifamily fatigue.” While he wants to hear the concerns, market data shows that Duval County has a shortage of apartments, he said.
“If you look at the percentage growth in Duval County, and you keep going out 10 years, we will have 90,000 new residents in Duval County,” he said. “And within those 90,000... 40% of them want to live in multifamily.”
The Southeast Citizens Planning Advisory Committee reviewed the proposed transmittals on June 24 and voted to oppose both, expressing the same concerns residents voiced during Wednesday’s workshop.