Mon, Jul 15, 2024
Councilmember regrets voting for development near Pumpkin Hill

Councilmember regrets voting for development near Pumpkin Hill

  • PublishedMay 22, 2024

District 8 councilmember, Ju’Coby Pittman, admits she should have seen the property in-person before voting. She plans to visit the area this weekend.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Residents near Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve spent hours pleading with Jacksonville City Council to nix a proposed housing development near the preserve. 

Close to 50 neighbors cited environmental concerns and gave personal accounts of severe flooding and uncontrolled fires.

“I had 55-gallon drums around my house and the barn with water and taking feed sacks and filling it up on top of my house to keep it from burning down. These things will happen again and will happen in the same area.” resident, Jimmy Wood, said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. 

City Council narrowly passed the land use portion of the development giving the green light for the developer to build on the nearly 49 acres of land.

District 8 councilmember, Ju’Coby Pittman, was one of seven councilmembers who voted against the same proposal in 2020 but flipped their vote this time around. 

She says she regrets approving the land use part of the development. 

“I couldn’t live with myself that night because I had not been out there, I had heard about it. My plans are to go out there this weekend.”

Pittman said she met with residents and the developer before Tuesday’s meeting but says she didn’t realize the two sides had not met before the city council meeting. 

“I assumed that all the parties had gotten together because in my district I’m always siding with the voices of the people.” Pittman said. 

First Coast News spoke with several residents Thursday about the environmental concerns they have with the proposed development. 

“If we build in an area that’s a resiliency area the water doesn’t realize that there’s not houses it’s going to have somewhere that it has to go the closest and easiest way for it to go is to downtown you have seen firsthand the floods that are happening downtown Jacksonville that 10-15 years ago did not happen and that’s because we’re not being smart with our development.”  resident, Danielle D’Amato, who is also a government biologist, said. 

The residents showed a detailed presentation to city council on Tuesday, including slides of uncontrolled fires and pictures of severe flooding. 

First Coast News asked Pittman about those pictures and why those weren’t enough evidence for Pittman to cast her vote. 

“The presentation was very detailed and informed, but I am a person that is visual as well I want to see how far the development is from the existing residential area and then I can feel a little better in making my decision.” Pittman said.  

City council deferred on the rezoning portion of the development, which gives residents a chance to negotiate with the seller. It also gives time for Pittman to do her homework this time around. 

“I can’t make a decision until I go see it up close and personal and really take into account the developers’ side as well as the residents’ side that’s why I plan to go out there and see and I hope when they have their meeting that both sides can come up with a compromise.”

First Coast News reached out to the seller’s attorney, Paul Harden, but has not heard back at this time. 

Residents say they are hopeful to schedule a meeting with Harden and the sellers soon. 

Boylan Hoping for Compromise

District 6 councilmember Michael Boylan was another councilmember who previously voted against the land use portion of the development in 2020, but for it this time. 

Boylan, who served as chair of the Land Use & Zoning Committee (LUZ) from 2020-2021, said what changed his mind was an overlay that was established in 2021.

“The compromise, the recognizing that when we put in place two years ago the overlay that this was carved out from it and so as time passes and the world changes, and demand changes, and the opportunity changes, I felt comfortable in supporting the land use amendment this time around.” Boylan said. 

In order to maintain the area’s natural beauty, the overlay protects over 5,000 acres of land along Cedar Point Road from being developed.

However, the owners of the 49-acre plot asked to be exempt from the overlay. Which, was granted by LUZ committee. 

“This property was actually intended to be included in the overlay, but the family came out at that time and said we don’t want to be part of this overlay we want to have the opportunity this is legacy property for us this is our retirement this is our future and so we want to be able to have the opportunity to do something meaningful with it. We relented as did quite honestly the neighbors in understanding and appreciating that, so they said okay we’ll carve it out.” Boylan said. 

Boylan said he appreciated and listened to residents’ environmental concerns, but ultimately sided with his research and the city’s planning commission’s report.

However, Boylan voted to defer the rezoning portion of the application as he had concerns about uncontrolled fires that have occurred in the area. 

The proposal contains over 90 homes separated by 10 feet. 

“By passing the land use amendment the message is pretty clear to the neighbors that the prospect of this property being developed is very high. On the other side of the coin by postponing the rezoning to PUD tells the applicant that they may not get this done. We use that regularly as an opportunity to force both players to the table and talk about compromise.” Boylan said. 

As for the flooding concerns, the city’s waterways commission voted against the proposal. Boylan said he’s conscious of the possible impact the development could have on the resiliency of the area. 

“I think we’re all susceptible to hurricanes or other forces of nature in this process so is a little bit greater here perhaps, but I think it’s something that people need to go in with their eyes wide open knowing the potential of the environment that they live in.” Boylan said. 

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