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Sparks fly as Jacksonville Beach residents voice concerns over Urban Trails project

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Sparks were flying at a Jacksonville beach meeting about a project that would soon change its landscape.

The Jacksonville Beach Urban Trails project is expected to take about 15 years in total, but the plan is to break ground on the East and West corridors of Jax Beach which could start summer of 2024.

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The city wants to connect the area and have a safe place for families to walk or ride bikes. The first phase of the project will impact five streets, including 15th Avenue, 4th Avenue, 8th Avenue, 9th Avenue, and Jacksonville Drive. Many neighbors aren’t happy about its placement, which the city has access to and say they felt blindsided by the project, but the city said public engagement meetings were held dating back to 2021.

The two community meetings were packed full of angry Jacksonville Beach neighbors as issues many have are about more traffic on side roads, strangers, and how close it could be to homeowner properties.

“I shouldn’t have to accommodate your plans I didn’t agree with to begin with,” Tom Letro said.

Related Story: Proposed Jax Beach walking trail could run through your front yard, city designs show

“I thought this was a joke when I first heard about this,” Sally Scott said.

Most people Action News Jax spoke with said they were disappointed.

“I would’ve really liked to have an open discussion with everyone but instead they’re trying to break us apart and I don’t think that’s okay,” Rachel Hollingsworth said.

The city said they’re going to build the trails for people walking or biking through the area. Neighbors like Rachel Hollingsworth and Tom Letro aren’t happy about it.

“We live in a quadplex so we have four people who all drive cars who live in one driveway and now we’re not going to have our driveway,” Letro said.

In the first part of the project, there are five streets impacted by the 10-foot-wide trail in the right-of-way area of some of the homes along these streets. The right-of-way is the area of the property your home sits on the city is legally allowed to build on.

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Jim Stock owns a home on 4th Ave North.

“This is guy is going to lose two massive oak trees, this guy is going to have nowhere to park, we’re going to have half of our parking available,” he said while pointing at the map. “For the city to say this is a right of way is extremely disingenuous. Technically it might be, but if you ask every single person that owns these or bought, renovated and spent a lot of money throughout the streets, they believe that’s their property. They have free access to it, the city has never said you can’t park there.”

The audience chimed into the meeting several times mid-session, but it’s a plan other neighbors like Robin Smith like.

“It gets people out of their cars, safer for your kids, you want to ride your bike to the beach you can do it without concern of being hit by a car,” he said.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Chris Hoffman believes this will benefit everyone and said concerns will be looked into.

“There will be serval different variations on what the Urban Trails looks like depending on where it is. It may be a wide sidewalk, or it may be a separate bike lane,” she said. “We want to hear from people, hear from people who are affected and get their feedback especially as we drill down into specific corridors we look at first.”

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Many thought there would be more of an open discussion but instead were met with “comment cards” that Mayor Hoffman said the concerns would be looked into. Others in the audience were also confused as to why there wasn’t a public vote for the project.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘if this is such a great project why wasn’t there a vote?’ Was there a vote? Did people miss the vote? Or was this something that didn’t require a vote?’” Action News Jax Ben Ryan asked.

“So, I wasn’t really clear on that question, we don’t put everything the city does to a vote of the citizens. We have an elected city council, a city staff and in this case a highly trained and experienced consultant firm that did the initial presentation, so we’ve gotten a lot of citizen input and citizen involvement,” Mayor Hoffman said.

Jim and Sally Stock, worry about strangers, their yard, and property value.

“I think they will experiment on us and see how it goes,” Stock said.

Mayor Hoffman said for those who are upset:

“I want to make sure they heard and absorbed the information and giving us their feedback, that’s every citizens right to do,” she said.

City leaders at the meeting said in about 15 minutes all trails can reach homes and cited studies that showed a 2-5 percent increase in property value for homes along trails in other cities, saying sometimes it could be up to 15 percent. Right now it’s unclear if there will be more meetings, but Mayor Hoffman said they will regroup afterward and decide what information and feedback is still needed.

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