Posted: 9:38 p.m. Monday, June 23, 2014

Church's fight with Jacksonville Beach over land continues

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The City of Jacksonville Beach is blocking a church from building on what it says is land zoned for residential use.

By Amanda Warford

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. —

The battle between a Jacksonville Beach church and the city continues. 

The Church of Our Savior filed a lawsuit against the city in October, after the planning commission twice sided with residents and denied the church’s request to build on an undeveloped lot at the foot of the Beach Boulevard Intracoastal Bridge. The church has been meeting at the Beaches Chapel but is quickly outgrowing the facility. 

“This is a perfect place to build and it would be good for the entire community,” said Dan Dalton, the church’s attorney, who gave Action News a tour of the property Monday. 

But neighbor Mark Gorman totally disagrees. 

“This just isn’t the place for a church,” he told Action News moments later, from his backyard on the opposite side of a tree line where the church would be built. The property is currently zoned residential, which Gorman said he researched before purchasing his home 12 years ago. 

“We understood, under a code, that only a single-family home would go there. Not a church or a park.” 

“It's not realistic that a home is going to be built here,” said Dalton. “The Jacksonville Beach residential property code does not prevent churches from building on them, it just requires that they obtain permission from the city.  Beach Boulevard is a busy highway and if someone were going to build a home here, they would’ve done that years ago.” 

Last week Dalton received a letter from the city declining his client’s request to reverse the decision following a closed-door meeting between city leaders and city attorneys. The case is heading to federal court in September. 

“We never thought we'd be here,” Dalton said, "And the church never wanted to sue. This is our only option.” 

But Gorman is relieved that the city continues to side with residents. “I'm glad the city is standing up and fighting for us.” 

Gorman believes existing, empty retail space is a better option for the church. He worries that parking will overflow on his neighborhood road and that the noise, lights and removal of trees that now block the sound of traffic along Beach Boulevard could negatively affect property values. 

“The church does not belong in this area and there's plenty of other places they can go,” said Gorman. “I hope they're successful, I just hope they find an area that's more suited to them.” 

Dalton said the current tree line would be removed, but others would be planted in their place if the church were built there.  He also said the church plans to offer shuttles if the congregation outgrows the parking lot and the church plans to hold services in other facilities around the beaches area once the congregation grows.  

“It really is the right thing for the city and the right thing for the church. It's kind of disappointing and kind of tragic that they're not allowing this to occur,” Dalton said. The trial is scheduled to begin on Sept. 2.  

Dalton said the church is not suing the city financially, but will ask the city to cover the church’s attorney’s fees if the church is successful. Those fees already total more than $125,000 and could exceed $750,000 by the end of the trial.

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