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Orange Park neighbors voice sidewalk safety concerns during town square site walk

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — Dozens of people in Orange Park walked the sidewalks near the Town Hall on Tuesday, but it wasn’t so much about getting steps in as taking steps toward the town’s future.

The town took neighbors around the block to show some of the spots it might be building a town square as part of a larger redevelopment plan.

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For some like Carin Ashman and Barbara Lichtenwalter, who’ve been living in Orange Park for years, the thought of it makes their small town feel a bit bigger.

“It’s just our time, it’s time to do this,” Lichtenwalter said.

The town square is part of Orange Park’s “Vision 2040″ project, a movement first created in 2020 to plan a list of ways to give the town a makeover. Orange Park’s longtime locals ready to see more changes to their town say they think it’ll help the area be more of a destination than a stop on the way to somewhere else.

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“It always seems like people just come through,” Ashman said, “We don’t see many people stay because there isn’t much to stay for.”

Orange Park is considering putting a town square somewhere within a few blocks of the Town Hall, which is at the intersection of Kingsley and Park avenues.

There aren’t any detailed renderings showing what it could look like, but the town’s presentations of the project include drawings of what the town square might include, such as a shopping center, a bike path along the river, and a welcome sign for drivers coming into town.

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But some neighbors say having a town square, to them, will be more about staying safe than pretty pictures. During Tuesday’s walkaround of the Town Hall and the surrounding streets, a number of them brought up feeling on edge while walking by the busy streets.

“We have major roads going right through town and it seems to all be centered on car traffic,” Ashman said. “It’s very hard to be a pedestrian.”

Even leaders of the developer working with Orange Park to create the town square, a Jacksonville-based company called “Haskell,” were on edge while walking on the sidewalks of Park Avenue.

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“One of our big ideas with this project is addressing that safety concern,” said Fred Jones, director of Haskell’s planning and design collaborative. “If we’re always battling safety and people don’t feel comfortable walking or biking, it’s really hard to make a successful town center.”

The Florida Department of Transportation says the roads by the town square site see tens of thousands of cars every day:

  • Park Avenue: at least 58,500 cars per day
  • Kingsley Avenue: at least 26,500 cars per day

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Last year, FDOT reported 435 crashes in Orange Park, 37 more than the year before.

For homeowners living nearby, they hope a town square will bring the safety of their neighborhoods to the streets.

“If we could extend that feeling of safety and serenity I love about my space, we couldn’t beat this place,” Ashman said.

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Orange Park doesn’t have a set timeframe for when a town square could be built. The town’s having two more meetings this week to get feedback from neighbors and business owners:

  • July 10: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM, Town Hall (for local business owners)
  • July 11: 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM, Town Hall (for neighbors)

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