Avondale river access beginning to look like a park

Avondale river access beginning to look like a park
Months of work by the community and by the City of Jacksonville Public Works Department show a marked improvement in the 435-foot-deep right-of-way from Richmond Street to the St. Johns River. The parking sign will soon be replaced by one bearing park rules and regulations.

Six months after hundreds of residents in Avondale became riled about, then embroiled in, the threat of losing city-owned property to private citizens, the issue seems to have come to an agreeable resolution.

Shortly after legislation proposed to close a 60- by 435-foot right-of-way from Richmond Street to the St. Johns River was withdrawn in the face of opposition by more than 700 petitioners, the core group of Friends of Van Wert Park (FVWP) met with city officials to discuss next steps for continuing public use of the river access.

On Sept. 10, about a dozen residents met with District 14 Councilman Jim Love, Sandra Stockwell, attorney from the Office of General Counsel, and Keith Meyerl, City of Jacksonville Parks District Manager to talk about creating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the city and FVWP, and to hammer out details about park rules and regulations.

At that meeting, held at Watson Realty on the corner of San Juan Avenue and Herschel Street, FVWP members indicated they wanted to retain parking, to have the fence on the northeast side of the property taken down, and to develop a set of park regulations.

During an exchange regarding the MOU, Donna Lewis, Hedrick Street resident, suggested slowing down the process to let it evolve. In an update just before press time, Love said it will probably be a standard MOU, similar to one executed with Friends of Boone Park South, which requires action item approvals by Parks and Recreation.

Since the Sept. 10 meeting, efforts to properly designate the access as a local park have made some small strides.

An old chain-link fence, backed by a wood fence, sits between private and public property. Both fences are scheduled to be taken down this month.

“The last meeting was very positive as the neighbors were all showing an interest in working together to maintain this space as public space,” said Carmen Godwin, RAP executive director. “Board member Mary Coleman was identified to work with an adjacent neighbor’s landscape architect and a member of the Friends of Van Wert group to create a plan for the park space that can be used by the Parks Department to approve any future improvements.”

Lewis is working with adjacent property owners to create rules which will follow the guidelines of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.

Love said Parks and Recreation has a $6,000 estimate for removing the fence and clearing out dead trees and the remaining growth along the fence, and will put it out to bid soon.

In the meantime, new grass has been planted and shrubbery trimmed, according to Kim Clontz, who was one of the early voices in favor of maintaining public access on the property.

Visitors to the future pocket park can now see clearly down to the river from the pavement. Previously, the overgrowth of shrubs and tall grass obstructed visibility, leading to concerns by neighbors that police could not see trespassers after dark.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News
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