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Brentwood residents speak out against Jacksonville’s new Medical Examiner’s office, city responds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An expected victory may be on the horizon for Jacksonville’s Brentwood community, as a highly controversial liquor store planned to be put right next to a local school, the Kipp Voice Academy, is set to be replaced with a Brentwood community center.

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The Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health, and Safety Committee is set to vote on allocating $1.813 million to the project on Monday.

Action News Jax first told our audience back in April when residents of the area gathered to protest the unwelcome addition of the proposed liquor store.

“We were out here all summer long in 95-degree temperatures fighting against that liquor store,” Lydia Bell recalled for Action News Jax on Sunday.

On Sunday, Bell, the president of the Metro Gardens Neighborhoods Association which represented Brentwood residents, said she’s thankful the city changed the location’s plans to the now-proposed community center.

“It was a very good victory because like I said, we were looking to protect the children,” explained Bell. “Alcohol and children do not go together.”

However, Bell also added that now, Brentwood residents have another incoming development they’ve turned the fight toward: the city’s new Medical Examiner’s office, expected to be completed in the Spring of 2025 in the heart of Brentwood.

“What they gonna do? We can expect Casper the Friendly Ghost to come and have tea and coffee with us?” Bell exclaimed. “No one in their right mind would want a 300-body morgue in their neighborhood ... we’re at war.”

Bell told Action News Jax on Sunday the main issue is that city leaders failed to notify residents ahead of time or include them in the planning process. That’s a failure, Bell added, to follow the City of Jacksonville’s Neighborhood Bill of Rights.

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The Neighborhood Bill of Rights states:

“Every organized, officially‐recognized neighborhood in the City of Jacksonville has the right to expect and receive ... the opportunity to participate in the design of publicly‐funded projects within or adjacent to the neighborhood, including the opportunity early in the planning process to express neighborhood preferences about the choice of location, materials, orientation, size, land use intensity, and other features”

Action News Jax reached out to the city for a response to the concerns of Bell and others in Brentwood.

They responded Saturday afternoon with the following statement:

“The City does have policies and procedures for many of the promises in the Neighborhood Bill of Rights. However, there isn’t a mechanism in place for design participation since the Neighborhood Bill of Rights was never codified into the Jacksonville Ordinance Code.

“The City reviewed 25 locations on city-owned property and by 2016 had settled on the current location, which met all the necessary criteria. A change in location would delay the project by five years and cost the city $10 million in losses. There is no time to waste with the Medical Examiner’s Office already at capacity.”

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