What happened to ‘We the people’ in Jacksonville Beach?

Published in The Beaches Leader, Letter to the Editor on March 23, 2023

To the editor:
On Monday, Jax Beach City Council voted 5-2 to put a proposed charter change on the May 16 ballot that will potentially raise the height limit an additional 20 feet (or two floors) for a proposed Latham Park public/private partnership. The prevailing rational for this change is that the additional height will better activate that area of the downtown. In addition, many council persons indicated that the 35 foot restriction was put in place almost 20 years ago and that perhaps the current citizens are ready for a new and improved downtown experience.
I went to all workshops, briefings and council meetings regarding this topic and initially I was intrigued. Part of me said, “Why build something good at 35 feet when you can build something
even greater at 55 feet?” What changed my mind was the lack of evidence that the city had any facts to substantiate that added height is the magic potion to activating our downtown. Not one developer has expressed or conveyed the “great things” they can bring to the citizens with that bonus height.
I also began to question the motivation of council being so energized to get this on a May ballot, one that statistically will get a very weak voter turnout. Something doesn’t sit right, and even Council person Golding indicated that this has the appearance of being “ramrodded through.”
Although the Height Limit Workshop attendance was weak at best, the citizens who came were vocal with questions and concerns, all of which were ignored and never addressed. Sadly, the
workshops felt more like the selling of a timeshare, rather than a public forum for an exchange of ideas.
The final straw for me was the disregard of public input for the various readings pertaining to the two large developments that are now approved at Adventure Landing Site and Gonzales Park area. Many citizens laid their emotions on the line on how these developments would change the fabric of our respective community. Those emotions were met with indifference and complete lack of empathy.
Council has stated that the height change is unique, and that this is a private and public partnership, therefore WE have control over what is constructed on this site. Should this ballot pass, the added height application process will go through the approval of our CRA and Planning Committee (both committees are made up of citizens appointed by the City Council). Then the recommendations will go to council, where there will be two hearings where the public is able to have a voice. This is where the logic fails. Many within this council have a proven track record of disregarding the recommendations from these committees, ignoring the recommendation of staff, and most assuredly, ignoring the voice of the citizens. Thus, the WE that should represent the citizens, has now become the WE of council chambers.
Admittedly, something higher than 35 feet can truly be something great, but in the wrong hands, this could be something disastrous. And quite frankly, I am not willing to trust that this council will be able to execute this additional height in a way that benefits the residents of this community.
Ken Marsh
Jacksonville Beach

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