JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The gate at Seagate Avenue and Lakeside Drive in Jacksonville Beach has become a topic of debate in the city.
City leaders say they're working to find a solution that works for everyone.
Neighbors in favor of keeping the gate closed say their roads have become busy thoroughfares.
Those who would like the gate to remain opened, or who would like to have personal access in case of an emergency, fear the gate being closed could slow down first responders, or a personal trip to the emergency room.
When construction started on the Kings Road bridge in Neptune Beach, the City of Jacksonville Beach opened the gate at the intersection of Lakeside Drive and Seagate, for 24/7 access.
Prior to the gate being opened around the clock, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said the gate was opened periodically for things such as garbage service and emergencies.
He says the gate would be opened due to concerns stemming from the Kings Road bridge's ability to sustain the weight of garbage trucks and fire rescue units.
He says the plan was for the gate to be closed once the construction is complete.
"There were conditions that were set to opening that gate previously," Latham said. "When that [new] bridge is opened, it should be able to support garbage trucks, firetrucks, etc."
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Homeowners in the Lakeside Drive neighborhood say they want the gate to be closed for good.
They say the traffic from the Kings Road bridge construction detour is incessant, and they're losing peace of mind.
"The fact is this street was never designed to be a thoroughfare," said Mary Frosio, a neighbor in favor of keeping the gate closed. "So, when you consider that, it was engineered to be a cul-de-sac."
Frosio says her main concerns are public safety and property rights.
She noted that "38 years ago, when folks bought property on this street, it came with a particular set of conditions or expectations and that was, when they paid a premium for that property, they were going to get peace and quiet, they were going to get a low volume of traffic, and they were going to have a safe place for their kids to play. Turning this into a thoroughfare would change that and be a detriment to the public safety of this street."
She and other neighbors say traffic has increased substantially since the Kings Road bridge construction began.
Other neighbors living nearby say they would prefer the gate to stay open. If not, some say they'd like to have key fobs to allow them to open the gate should they need access for things such as emergency room visits.
They also fear closing the gate could slow down response times for police and fire rescue responding to their homes.
"This is leaving us with one way in and out over the bridge," said Morgan Siders, who would like neighbors living outside of the Lakeside Drive gate to have emergency access.
Siders tells Action News Jax closing the gate for their use would lock them out of their own city, Jacksonville Beach, by giving them one way in and out through Neptune Beach. In addition to longer commutes, they say it could add time to a personal emergency room visit.
She says this would be the latest instance of losing an entrance point. Siders tells us other points of ingress and egress have been closed over the years.
"They gave us a gate and now they're trying to take that away," Siders said.
Action News Jax spoke to Mayor Charlie Latham in a phone conversation. Latham says the city's goal is finding a solution that works for everyone.
"It's up to us to find the fairest and most cost-effective solution, and that's what we're working on," Latham said.
He explained the nature of the concerns.
"I think what's happened is over the last couple of decades, and more recently over the last several years, few years, you know, people have said they like the idea of being able to use that on a regular basis," Latham said. "… The conundrum for the council and for the government is a commitment was made to this other group to not interfere with their cul-de-sac and the safety of their closed street. Most of the streets in that area are cul-de-sacs."
He tells us there's been no final vote to close the gate for good. He says the city attorney discouraged permanent action, so the present, or future city councils, can have the ability to make changes depending on the conditions in the area surrounding the gate.
On Monday night, Jacksonville Beach City Council tasked the staff to explore options allowing first responders to enter the gate electronically.
Should the city pursue the idea of an electronic gate, he says it could be controlled through a keypad for first responders, or through a 911 operator remotely.
"We've asked out city attorney and city manager to look at a couple of different options that would allow for the gate to stay closed, while at the same time providing for emergency access."
Latham tells us this would allow, fire rescue, police and utilities to access their neighborhood through the gate as necessary. He says a smaller gate for bicycles and low speed vehicles has been discussed, as well.
Should the city bring in an electronically controlled gate, Siders tells us she'd like homeowners living in her area to be able to purchase key fobs for emergency access to the gate.
Siders fears neighbors would have a longer drive to the emergency room via Kings Road, compared to Lakeside Drive, should the gate be closed for their immediate use in the future.
"What we would like is for potentially the residents that are locked in back here, to be granted access to the gate with maybe our own fobs that we could pay for, which would help offset the cost of the [electronic] gate," Siders said.
She and other neighbors are petitioning for emergency key fob access should an electronic gate be installed.
Cox Media Group