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Growing Pains

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asonj23    0

Growing pains

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Control and management of development becoming hot issue in 'city on the move'

By CHARLIE PATTON

The Times-Union

In the euphoric aftermath of Jacksonville's first Super Bowl, the man most responsible for bringing the game to Northeast Florida held a news conference.

In the course of his remarks, Wayne Weaver, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, addressed the issue of growth.

"[it's] just not possible for this city to stay as is," Weaver said. "The city is on the move. We have all the natural resources, the assets. It's going to grow."

For some, those are ominous words.

Talk of growth is a sure way to get wildlife artist Ford Riley agitated.

A Jacksonville native who grew up in Ortega, Riley moved to Mandarin in the late 1970s because he was seeking a sense of rural isolation, which was possible to achieve beneath the live oak canopy on a bank overlooking the St. Johns River at Mandarin Point.

"When I moved here, State Road 13 was two lanes and people rode horses on Mandarin Road," Riley said. "That's disappeared real fast. Any land that's left out here the developers are going in and trying to buy it out."

Now, to leave home and go to another part of town, "you've got to plan your day around it," Riley said. "We're losing a quality of life, a sense of community."

"My sleepy little suburb of a city is already fast becoming everything we don't want it to be," Pete Prisco, a former Times-Union reporter who still lives in Jacksonville, wrote for CBSSportsLine.com during Super Bowl week. "The traffic is getting bad (relatively speaking for people in the Washington, D.C., area), the crime rates are rising and the cost of living is going up, too."

"We're definitely feeling more development pressure," said Ed Lehman, director of growth management for the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council, which reviews developments in seven counties. "Jacksonville is growing fairly rapidly. The faster you grow, the more issues you have."

Those issues of how to properly control and manage growth -- long a concern in South Florida -- are becoming increasingly important to people here, said Matthew Corrigan, a professor of political science at the University of North Florida and director of UNF's Public Opinion Research Laboratory.

"This issue is going to grow and grow and be more important," he said. "It's definitely getting to a political boiling point."

Evidence is everywhere as community members from Baymeadows to Jacksonville Beach have come out in throngs to oppose condos, Wal-Marts and high-rises. And people are listening.

Now's the time

"Some people call it growth," said Susie Wiles, Mayor John Peyton's spokeswoman. "Some people call it sitting in traffic. Some call it a need for more parks. However you say it, it is at the forefront ... We've been saying for years, now is the time to make sure we don't become the next Atlanta or we don't become the next South Florida. Well, now really is the time."

Those concerns have been reflected in the special election for City Council District 3, a district that straddles the Intracoastal Waterway and has experienced explosive growth, particularly west of the Intracoastal, in the last 15 years.

"This is going to be an issue that we are going to be wrestling with for the next 20 years," said Richard Clark, who will oppose Scott Shine in the March 29 runoff.

"We're one of the hot cities in America right now," Clark said. "We're on everybody's short list. We have an opportunity to be a model city on how to grow and how to grow right."

"It's a huge issue," Shine said. "Ten to 15 years ago we needed growth. We were changing our community, changing our image. But now we are reaching critical mass."

In a poll released in early January, UNF found that 41.6 percent of those polled thought Florida's growth-management laws are effective, while 36.7 percent said they aren't effective.

In the same poll, what was then the city's most hotly debated growth-management issue, a proposal by the home-building company D.R. Horton to develop the Baymeadows Golf Course, found that 64 percent of those responding opposed the development.

Despite angry objections from those living in the neighborhood, the City Council had voted to approve the proposal to build 1,200 condos, 200 homes, 150,000 square feet of office space and 60,000 square feet of retail space on the golf course. In exchange, D.R. Horton, under the city's fair-share laws, would have paid $4.9 million to improve Baymeadows Road.

But among the many arguments made by opponents was that Baymeadows Road is a constrained road and can't be widened; and that it is already overburdened by traffic.

"The citizens of Jacksonville just think the developers have run amok and are making the most absurd things a reality," said Dan Becton, who helped organize opposition.

In late January, only days before 100,000 Super Bowl visitors began arriving in Jacksonville, Peyton took the side of the neighbors and vetoed the project. It was his first veto as mayor.

Then he vetoed a change to the city's comprehensive plan that would have allowed residential development on 376 acres on Dunns Creek, north of Heckscher Drive, an area zoned for light industrial.

Peyton said at the time he planned to appoint a group to study growth management. The group hasn't been appointed yet, but serious discussions about its mission have begun, Wiles said.

In his message on vetoing the Baymeadows project, Peyton said, "Preserving our quality of life -- including minimizing the time our citizens spend waiting in traffic -- is critically important to us."

Still, the issue isn't dead. The developer purchased and closed the golf course and is taking the city to court.

Not in my back yard

The battle of Baymeadows is just the latest in a series of fights in which Jacksonville neighborhoods have organized in opposition to proposed projects.

Some of these fights have been distinctly local in nature, variations on the "not-in-my neighborhood" theme.

"It's a fascinating political issue," Corrigan said. "Everybody wants economic growth. But they don't want a McDonald's, they don't want a Target, built next door. Clearly, people are concerned about their living conditions. They are not as concerned about growth if it doesn't affect their particular neighborhood."

For instance, in June 2003, Wal-Mart dropped plans to build a supercenter on Mayport Road after neighbors complained about the project.

Later that year, Wal-Mart pushed ahead with plans to build one of its Neighborhood Markets on Bartram Road at Atlantic Boulevard. Despite opposition, that plan was approved by the City Council. But in March 2004, a state judge ruled that the proposed store does not meet the city's planning requirements and blocked the project.

Other projects approved

The City Council also approved the construction of two "big-box" retailers, a Super Wal-Mart and a Super Target, at Hodges Road and Beach Boulevard, a proposal that is now being opposed in state court. So far, the courts have ruled in favor of the developer.

But other projects have drawn opposition of a more regional nature.

The Goodman Co., a Miami-based development company, has been trying to win permission for the proposed Freedom Commerce Center south of Baymeadows Road between Interstate 95 and Philips Highway. But because the proposal includes wetlands involving the headwaters of Julington and Pottsburg creeks, it has attracted widespread opposition.

The concern is that the accumulative effects of growth are beginning to cause serious problems, said R. Michael Hartman, who unsuccessfully tried to found an Institute of Growth Management at Jacksonville University.

Hartman, an expert on air pollution, serves on a committee for the state Department of Environmental Protection that monitors ozone levels. The city is in danger of exceeding permissible ozone levels for the third straight year, which could bring the threat of federal sanctions such as loss of highway funds, he said.

He also noted ongoing problems with excessive nutrients in the St. Johns River and excessive bacteria in the St. Johns tributaries.

Hartman said the biggest problem he sees with growth management in Jacksonville is that the process isn't designed to allow input from residents at an early stage. By the time issues reach a public forum, positions have hardened, no one is interested in compromise and consensus is difficult to reach, he said. Hartman's solution is third-party mediation -- that would have been one role of an Institute of Growth Management.

"Jacksonville, at that time, wasn't interested in a third party being involved," Hartman said. "If there are two or three parties to a conflict, those parties are so involved, they cannot function as mediators. But city planners felt it was a reflection on them negatively to bring in a third party."

Still, Hartman said he sees a shift taking place in attitudes toward growth.

"I see the momentum shifting ever so slowly toward giving citizens more of a right to be involved," he said.

charlie.pattonjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4413

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bobliocatt    0

If we don't want to become the next Atlanta, then nows the time to focus in on expanding mass transit options and rebuilding the inner city, since it was originally laid out to handle a population of twice the size, than it currently does today.

Everyone, won't move into town, but at least give residents a fair chance to choose whether to live far out and sit in traffic congestion or purchase competitively priced housing in the city and use mass transit to get around.

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asonj23    0

Hopefully all of this suburban sprawl is just a nasty trend that will fizzle out in the

comming years. With all of the planned residential communities downtown we

may start to see a growth explosion within the inner city that will support some

sort of mass transit (and will also enhance our skyline). I definitely cant wait to

see all of these residential towers completed, however, let's just hope that there

will be enough tenants to fill them up.

I still don't understand why road BUILDING is not as prevelant as it used to be.

Instead of making roads wider, why not build more of them giving people multiple

routes instead of channeling them into a few major arteries. Just look at the

areas of town with a decent grid system of roadways and one can see the benefits

of multiple routes. The traffic is not nerely as conjested.

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jjoshjl    0

I say make roads like baymeadows narrower, put stop lights at every point possible, and make sure there is always 'construction' so that traffic is even worse, then make the downtown area a model of traffic management with a huge mass transit system. Then take the sky way to all the hot spots around jacksonville, all the while letting th people who live downtown have a severly discounted skyway rate. Nothing will push people downtown faster than seeing your friend who lives downtown pass you in the monorail smiling and waving on his what to the avenues.... All the while, your stuck in a two hour gridlock waiting to get to the same store. Plus to make it better, you live two miles from avenues ;)

Anyway, I jest

Cheers

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vicupstate    220

If we don't want to become the next Atlanta, then nows the time to focus in on expanding mass transit options and rebuilding the inner city, since it was originally laid out to handle a population of twice the size, than it currently does today.

Everyone, won't move into town, but at least give residents a fair chance to choose whether to live far out and sit in traffic congestion or purchase competitively priced housing in the city and use mass transit to get around.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The T-U article is quite good I thought. It really covers all the bases, and the catch-22. The Catch-22 being that to may an area vibrant and desireable, legions of people will be drawn to it.

I agree with Lakelander. Instead of spending so much on widening roads, spent it on mass transit and making housing and commercial options available (and affordable)in the already developed areas.

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JaxInvestor    0

one thing that annoys me about this article (and many of Littlepage's) is that they all talk about "smart growth", but they NEVER seem to give their definition of smart growth or smart growth examples for the public to read about.

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Viper    0

one thing that annoys me about this article (and many of Littlepage's) is that they all talk about "smart growth", but they NEVER seem to give their definition of smart growth or smart growth examples for the public to read about.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Journalists love buzz words. Being one myself I tend to pass by those words with little meaning and try to boil the article down into a single basic thought.

Jacksonville is expanding on multiple fronts. Sonme like it, others don't. You can't completely stop it just hope to control some of it.

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wolfdawg54    0

Jacksonville needs to improve its mass transit system. Unfortunately, the skyway is way ahead of its time and is somewhat seen as a black-eye because of its lack of riders. Until we improve our image, Jacksonville's mass transit hopes will not be fulfilled.

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Viper    0

According to some members here, its ridership has picked up greatly. If that be the case, imagine it once the dozen or so residential projects are completed.

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one thing that annoys me about this article (and many of Littlepage's) is that they all talk about "smart growth", but they NEVER seem to give their definition of smart growth or smart growth examples for the public to read about.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The FTU IMO, has just started to cover new urbanism and smart growth. I'm hopefull it will continue. On topic, they did a very comprehensive skyway piece with good illustrations not too long ago.

www.metropolismag.com works when I'm short on content. The printed version is excellent and inexpensive.

plug :whistling:

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