Ensure that council hears desire to protect beach life

Published on 3/16/23 in the Beaches Leader

To the editor:

The last couple of Council meetings have demonstrated that there is a communication breakdown between Council and Jax Beach residents.

            Recent City Council meetings have demonstrated that 1) residents will show up to express concerns about development in their neighborhoods, and 2) there are some council members who are unresponsive to these concerns. This is demonstrated by the lack of response to emails as well as council members being visibly agitated, and at times confrontational when citizens address the Council. 

            The issues Council has been voting on are complex; they need to balance property owners’ rights with neighborhood and community concerns. Still, that is no excuse for blatantly disregarding citizens’ concerns. It is better to explain the rationale for your point of view than to attack each concern raised. There is no public communication from Councilmembers (except for Councilmember Golding) explaining issues that will be voted on and why some are complex. The City has not been consistent in publishing its newsletter or keeping the public informed about issues, even though it hired a communications manager. Residents want to stay informed and be able to provide options to address public problems, but they are being left in the dark.

            This Council believes it is its job to tell the community what is best, not work with the community to find balanced solutions. An example is the push to increase the height limit downtown. When I was on Council, there were ‘workshops’ on this issue. Unfortunately, these were more of a sales pitch to convince the public to support raising the height than to work with residents to develop a common vision of how we want our downtown to look.

            There were supposed to be additional workshops to come to an agreeable set of incentives the City could use to get developers to align their projects with the community’s vision. Those never happened. Instead, Council moved forward to place a Charter change to allow development in the downtown area to build up to 55’ on the May ballot without letting the public know what the incentives would be. Ultimately, they decided to postpone the vote until May 20, and at their next Council briefing, agreed to vote on a slimmed-down version: for additional height only on the public lot south of Latham Plaza. It was also noted that this would be the test pilot for increasing the height limit in all of downtown.

            I am not opposed to a public discussion on the height limit, but that is not what the Council has attempted to do. If it is, then they failed miserably. They began with the assumption that the height must be increased instead of starting with working with the residents to identify the problem(s) we are trying to solve and then identify possible solutions. 

            Council has identified the problem as the lack of desired development in the downtown area. Some have decided that the solution is to allow for more height (even though there are some wonderful new developments, all within 35′). Others have posed alternative solutions that are much easier to implement, such as revamping the parking requirements for businesses downtown. While there is agreement that current parking requirements are an issue, there is still a push to increase the height limit. 

            If the problem is that 35’ is too limiting, as the mayor has said, then there are other alternatives as well if we are willing to change the height restriction in the Charter. Allow for aesthetic, non-conditioned space to have additional, limited height. Allow for roof-top use with a covering, but no walls. There are options to address resident and developer concerns, but quickly pushing for a height increase, especially now, is just adding to our residents’ distrust of what is motivating our elected officials. 

            Council is asking us to trust that they have heard our concerns and will take them into account when developing the RFP (Request For Proposals) for the Latham parking lot. How can we do that when they have not demonstrated an interest in our concerns, only those of their friends and donors? They are the ones who have the ear of the Council, not us.

            I have no doubt that Charter Amendment will pass Council, which will move the decision to the voters in May. That is our opportunity to ensure that Council hears us and our desire to protect our Beach Life.

Georgette Dumont, Jax Beach

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