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News Bites: Florida-Georgia Fiasco; Get Out and Walk; King's Grant Not Granted

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FLORIDA-GEORGIA FIASCO

Florida-Georgia festivities at The Jacksonville Landing have been a tradition since time immemorial, or at least since the waterfront mall was built in the late 1980s. All that may change this year. In an Oct. 17 story, David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union reported that City Hall is imposing restrictions on said festivities for the first time. Those restrictions have both parties locked in litigation.

First and foremost, the city (which owns the land on which the mall is built) requires that The Landing’s owners, Jacksonville Landing Investments (owned by the Sleiman family), file for a special events permit. The only problem is timing. The game goes down Oct. 27, tailgate party or no tailgate party. In order to file the permit application 90 days in advance, as the new rules stipulate, the Sleimans would need a time machine.

The Landing did file an application, on Oct. 1, and then promptly began advertising. This drew the ire of city officials, who argue that The Landing was notified about the permit process back in June, giving the Sleimans plenty of time to file.

Either way, the clock is ticking.

“Circuit Court Judge Kevin Blazs heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys for The Landing and the city,” Bauerlein wrote. “Blazs asked each side to give him its proposed orders in 20 days, so his ruling will take place after the Florida-Georgia game. Until then, the city will make the decision on whether it grants a permit for The Landing in connection with Florida-Georgia.”

That means the ball is in the city’s court, which doesn’t bode well for The Landing. Bauerlein noted that “[t]he dispute is part of a larger courtroom battle over whether the city can evict the mall’s owners from the city-owned land.” This is just one chapter in an ongoing saga of litigation—a saga that was recently interrupted by tragedy on Aug. 26, when a mass shooting unfolded at a video game tournament hosted on the property.

GET OUT AND WALK

Meanwhile, the Council on Aging of Clay County has fired its Executor Director Al Rizer over the organization’s ongoing financial problems. Those problems stem from the Council’s side hustle, Clay Transit. With a confused mandate mixing up senior services and public transportation, it’s no surprise the agency has been hemorrhaging money for years.

Nick Blank of Clay Today has kept his eye on these developments since the first rumblings of financial trouble. Blank’s Oct. 17 story reported Rizer’s removal; the director had been serving as head of the Council on and off since 2008. Chief Financial Officer Megan Villavicencio resigned the very morning of the meeting at which Rizer’s ouster was announced.

Blank quoted Council President John Bowles, who “said a change in leadership was needed in the organization with the serious accounting problems.”

“It’s simply a business decision. It has nothing to do with personalities, because we all know each other and worked together for years,” Bowles said. “We hate that it comes down to this.”

But it’s not ‘simply a business decision.’ In addition to running the public bus system, the Council is required by law to provide transport to the underserved as well. “Bowles said senior services would not be affected by the transportation services’ deficit as the council considered cuts,” Blank observed.

KING’S GRANT NOT GRANTED

The St. Johns County Commission has dealt another blow to a proposed development that has been drawing criticism for years.

“In something of a surprise,” The St. Augustine Record’s Stuart Korfhage wrote in an Oct. 16 story, “the St. Johns County Commission voted against a proposal to settle the lawsuit by the King’s Grant developers, dealing another setback to the 999-home development.”

King’s Grant has been in the works for years, and it has been resisted for just as long. Its developers dreamed up a massive, 770-acre mixed-use development at S.R. 206 and I-95. They faced regulatory headwinds from the start. Turns out, St. Johns County doesn’t need any more sprawl.

A 2015 vote was close, with three Commissioners voting in favor of and two against preliminary rezoning to prepare the ground for King’s Grant. The latest vote, this one to move the project through a courtroom impasse, was unequivocal. One former “yes” vote even moved to the “no” column.

“On Tuesday, the vote was 4-1 to deny the settlement agreement,” Korfhage reported. “What was most surprising was that Commissioner Jimmy Johns, who voted in favor of the development in 2015, voted against settling. Also, Commissioner Jay Morris was the only one in favor of the settlement, even though he voted against the development in 2015.”

Litigation will continue, but the Grant’s future looks grim.

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