Residents consider changes to Riverfront Park

Residents consider changes to Riverfront Park
Rendering illustrates proposed changes Jacksonville’s Parks, Recreation and Community Service Department is considering for Riverfront Park in San Marco.

Fishing platforms, fencing, and turning River Road into a one-way street are some solutions city officials are contemplating as a response to resident’s concerns about problems stemming from public fishing in Riverfront Park.

On Jan. 19 at Preservation Hall in San Marco, District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer convened a meeting so Riverfront Park area residents could hear and respond to some of the solutions being discussed concerning public fishing in the park near their homes.

At a similar meeting in November, city officials heard complaints from residents who claimed public fishing in the park has ruined their property values as well as their quality of life.

At that meeting, residents said it was not fishing per se but “the culture of fishing” they were concerned about, particularly the fishermen’s blatant disregard for park rules and hours, lack of parking, River Road traffic congestion, noise, drug and alcohol use by park users, profanity, littering, public urination and defecation, theft of water from the hoses outside their homes and destruction of park property, especially the bulkhead.

During the November meeting many residents called for the city to discontinue fishing in the park entirely.

While city officials again reiterated that the administration is unwilling to ban fishing along the park bulkhead, which stretches from Landon Avenue to Laverne Street, Boyer led a discussion about four possible solutions, which might effect a compromise.

Joining her in presenting the conceptual plan were Daryl Joseph, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services and John Pappas, Director of Public Works. Allison Korman Shelton, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Mayor’s Office, also attended the meeting.

The first and perhaps easiest solution to implement would be making River Road a one-way street heading north between Landon Avenue and Laverne Street, said Boyer.

Also discussed were installing a fence on the city right-of-way adjacent to the residents’ properties; installing a gate and putting up No Trespassing signs to close off the alley behind residents’ homes on the city right-of-ways along Landon Avenue and Laverne Street; and erecting two fishing platforms or decks along the bulkhead. Once the platforms were installed, they would be the only areas in the park where fishing would be permitted, Boyer said.

“All the concepts look wonderful,” said one resident and most everyone in the hall nodded in agreement.

One-way street

Riverfront_01Residents seemed especially happy with the idea of making River Road a one-way street. “I love the idea. How fast can you implement it,” asked one resident, noting it would also help deter speeders who currently disregard the new 20 mph speed limit.

“If Public Works says it is feasible, we can do it,” Korman said. Pappas and Joseph mentioned no problem with the change other than to say it would most likely take place in March because the city needs at least 45 days to erect signs needed to inform drivers of the change in traffic pattern.

Placing a vehicle gate with an access code available to only residents at the entrance to the back alley also seemed feasible, Boyer said. In addition to keeping fishermen out of the alley, the gate would prevent cut-through traffic from commuters who might try to bypass San Marco Boulevard once the one-way street takes effect, she said.

But before committing to the idea of closing the alley, Boyer said the city needed to research whether the road behind the homes was city-owned or a private road and decide whose responsibility it would be to maintain the new gates. Also problematic is the fact that city utilities, yard service companies and garbage trucks frequently access the alley, perhaps indicating it is city property. “We normally don’t close public thoroughfares,” said Pappas.

“If gates are not included, it will be a highway back there,” said one resident. “There’s so much traffic now, drivers get mad when you try to back out of your garage,” said another.

Another option was to build a four-foot high fence on the public right of way across from the park so the homeowners’ front yards would be enclosed along that portion of River Road. It was also suggested the fence might hook up with the back alley gate. “This way we might keep people who are using the park from throwing trash in your yards,” said Boyer. “We can have gates installed with access codes if you want.”

Joseph agreed. “People might be able to jump over it, but it does differentiate your yard as private property,” he said, noting the fence the city had in mind was the same as the one surrounding Landon Park.

“A fence will make it look like a public housing project,” said one woman, while another man expressed concern that a fence might obstruct his view.

“The pros to the fence outweigh the cons,” said another resident.

Fishing platforms

One idea as to how to curb the number of people fishing in the park was having the city build two fishing platforms or decks off the bulkhead in the park.

Fishing would be allowed only on the platforms and restricted in the rest of the park, Boyer said, noting a locked gate could be put on the entrance to the platform, so fishermen could only access it during park hours.

The platforms would have the capacity to safely hold between eight and 10 fishermen apiece, Boyer said. “We don’t want them huge. Maybe 18 people will be able to fish in the park instead of 45, which is more than the park can handle,” she said.

Many of the residents said they preferred the idea of an extended platform rather than a deck because it would keep the fishermen further away from their bedroom windows.

“Placement is key,” Joseph said, noting anything that is built will have to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. “We want to make sure they are not adjacent to anyone’s front door,” he said, noting more research is needed to decide how far out the platforms can extend because they can’t be put in a navigable channel.

In order to prevent fishing from the bulkhead, Joseph suggested the city might install a lateral bulkhead extension or fence-like material under the water or along the base of the bulkhead. “There are various structures you can install on the bulkhead or in the water that prevent you from being able to reel in a line. We need something that can achieve that goal without being unattractive,” Joseph said. “This might be something we can do so JSO will not have to enforce (the No Fishing rule) all the time,” he said.

In order to prevent fishermen from urinating or defecating in public view, Boyer suggested having a screened port-a-let installed on the platform, to prevent it from being seen from the park, but that idea was not as favorably received by all the residents.

“A lot of the clients use drugs,” said one man, referring to the fishermen. “If you put that up you will provide a hidden shelter for them to expand their activities,” he said, adding he was also concerned about the port-a-let sending off a foul odor when a west wind blows.

But not all residents were enamored with the idea of building anything off the bulkhead. “Riverfront Park is one of the last places on the river where you can have an unobstructed view,” said Anita Morrill, after the meeting. “I have concerns about putting docks into the water. They are kind of ugly. I’d like to see the process thoroughly thought through. I think they might be an eyesore.”

To pay for the project, Boyer said she has $36,000 in Loblolly funds she might be able to use and will seek to find additional funding from grants and other sources.

Boyer said she plans to hold another meeting in early March to update the residents about the project.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News
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