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Mayport seeks to protect heritage

Development and fishing would have to coexist

By Drew Dixon, Shorelines staff writer

MAYPORT -- While developers have been buying properties and lining up plans in the historic fishing village, the Mayport Waterfront Partnership has drafted a proposal to keep the area's heritage while allowing new buildings.

The partnership board Tuesday approved a proposed addition to the building codes for the village that could ensure commercial fishing interests and activities will be protected while developers are still enticed to build new residential and commercial structures.

For example, the proposal says a resident who has a fishing occupation license can park commercial fishing vessels on his or her property. The proposed amendment, written by Ed Lukacovic, project manager for the partnership, also would entitle commercial fishermen to store equipment such as traps, nets, coolers and other gear on their properties.

The proposed change still has to be reviewed by the Jacksonville General Counsel's Office and ultimately, the Jacksonville City Council must approve the wording if it's to be added to the overlay building code.

The proposal comes amid a flurry of property purchases by developers who intend to build condominiums and revitalize commercial buildings in the historic Mayport village near the Mayport ferry on and near Ocean Street. The Mayport Waterfront Partnership has been encouraging the renewal work.

"I think the primary mission was to preserve the aesthetics," said partnership board member Carroll Huffines. "The families that live here should be allowed to continue" commercial fishing.

Mark Farrell is the president and chief executive officer of Vestcor Companies, a development firm based in Jacksonville that has purchased about a half-dozen properties in Mayport village in the past six months.

Farrell acknowledged his company plans on building several condominiums along the waterfront. But he stressed the company has no desire to quash the fishing industry. Rather, it's an asset, he said.

"We think the shrimp boats out there are wonderful," said Farrell. "We think it adds to the character. ... It's an old historic fishing village. We ought to keep it that way."

Vestcor's property purchases include the restaurant that used to service the old La Cruise Casino operations and parking lot, a marina storage area and parking lot and the building that used to be the Safe Harbor Seafood operation, among other land.

While several condominiums will be added to the area, Farrell said his company wants to build shops and other commercial structures that will provide public access to the waterfront.

Jose Caboz of Atlantic Beach unloads frozen shrimp from a boat docked at Mat Roland Seafood in Mayport village on Wednesday. The Mayport Waterfront Partnership wants to protect the village's fishing interests.

GARY WILCOX/The Times-Union

"We're trying to put our hands around what we have and come up with something special," said Farrell, adding the company is not even finished with the design phase of the project. Construction is expected to begin in the fall.

The mere mention of the pending development panicked some families involved in the fishing industry last year. They worried they might be forced out of the area because of factors such as commercial seafood odors.

Raymond King, who lives on Ferris Street in the village, stores his crab traps and other commercial fishing gear on his property. He approached the Waterfront Partnership in November asking the board to consider protecting his profession and heritage in the area in the face of new development and revitalization.

King said Tuesday he was pleased the board acted swiftly to propose wording to help keep his way of life secure in the village.

"It's wonderful. I'm amazed that it went this quickly," King said. "So far, I'm pretty happy. I haven't had any anxiety set in."

Farrell admitted there could be some worries with any change. But his company plans to incorporate the history of the village into new development, not chase it away.

"We are absolutely not trying to force anyone out," Farrell said. "We are buying vacant pieces of property. ... We are looking to take a lot of debris off these sites and clean them out."

Staff writer Drew Dixon can be reached at (904) 249-4947, extension 33, or via e-mail at drew.dixon

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I cannot reiterate this enough, Mayport is dirty and gritty and a necessary component for the MANY fishermen and boaters of the overall region. I used to go there myself to gas up the boat and go offshore. A nice new (stucco?) vestcor probably expensive development would ruin that community I think. The people of this community could do with some cleaning up and less crime, but they need to remain the way they are without turning into some new hot real estate market.

Many of the marinas and boatyards of the area are gone or have suffered through condo development, do not let Mayport fall to this either!

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Hughes, Mayport is located slightly west of Atlantic Beach and at the mouth of the St John's River. simms, I disagree with some of the things that you have said. As a resident of the area, in Atlantic Beach, for 19 years, I have had the chance to explore Mayport and understand how the area functions. What you see now is a far worse Mayport than a few years ago. It used to have a few shops but could not sustain them due to a lack of people living in the area. The condos, featuring a shingle, ceder shake style will represent a more northeastern feel and places like this have succeded in the past (Fernandina, Brunswick, Seatlle, Baltimore, etc) Remember, the casinos would be worse than this development and they have managed to coexist quite nicely. It is on its way to be cleaned up and a small town will be established there. There will be no buildings over 35 feet there so do not be picturing large condos because that is the exact opposite of the type of development that this is trying to achieve.

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and another point simms...there are developers that have tried to seize property in Mayport that would love to go higher than 35 feet and destroy what is there, however, this group is not like that. Vestor and the Mayport Riverfront Partnership are firm in their desire to maintain what is already there. They just want to enhance the area. The prices of the condos should not be too high either. It is a very moderate development that is being developed to help the cities of Atlantic Beach and Mayport.

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Hughes, Mayport is located slightly west of Atlantic Beach and at the mouth of the St John's River. simms, I disagree with some of the things that you have said. As a resident of the area, in Atlantic Beach, for 19 years, I have had the chance to explore Mayport and understand how the area functions. What you see now is a far worse Mayport than a few years ago. It used to have a few shops but could not sustain them due to a lack of people living in the area. The condos, featuring a shingle, ceder shake style will represent a more northeastern feel and places like this have succeded in the past (Fernandina, Brunswick, Seatlle, Baltimore, etc) Remember, the casinos would be worse than this development and they have managed to coexist quite nicely. It is on its way to be cleaned up and a small town will be established there. There will be no buildings over 35 feet there so do not be picturing large condos because that is the exact opposite of the type of development that this is trying to achieve.

and another point simms...there are developers that have tried to seize property in Mayport that would love to go higher than 35 feet and destroy what is there, however, this group is not like that. Vestor and the Mayport Riverfront Partnership are firm in their desire to maintain what is already there. They just want to enhance the area. The prices of the condos should not be too high either. It is a very moderate development that is being developed to help the cities of Atlantic Beach and Mayport.

Well I can only hope that Vestcor does its best to protect what makes this part of town unique (and I agree that the casinos detract from the real and old economy of fishing in mayport). I guess cedar shake isn't terrible :w00t: and it will continue AB's theme (AB is my fav area beach).

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Yea...11 E., now I'm thinking that a small urban oriented grocery/cafe should go in there (and Atlanta Bread and maybe a clothing store)

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That renovation has been complete for a while. I dont see them doing anything to the building as far as increasing space since they just completed it. It was a very successful project though and is almost completely sold out.

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