Boyer, residents seek ways to shield neighborhood river access from graffiti, teen partying

Boyer, residents seek ways to shield neighborhood river access from graffiti, teen partying
As soon as it is painted over, graffiti reappears on the Hagan’s fence and city bulkhead surrounding the city’s right of way at the base of Inwood Terrace along the St. Johns River.

Fed up with graffiti on the bulkhead, overflowing litter, and frequent drug and alcohol use by teens in the city’s riverfront right-of-way at the end of Inwood Terrace, neighborhood residents met with District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer in January to seek solutions.

In response to a resident’s suggestion that the area be turned into a public park, Boyer called the meeting Jan. 22 on the end of Inwood Terrace near the city right-of- way. Sherry Wilson, Division Chief of Recreation, Parks and Community Programs, Keith Meyerl, Parks District Manager, and Mats Nemeth, Assistant Chief with the Jacksonville Sheriff ’s Office, joined her in listening to the residents’ concerns about criminal activity in the right-of-way area.

Many residents said they bought a home on the dead-end street in order to enjoy river views and close access to the water. Most residents did not count on the area being an eyesore with potential safety hazards.

Of particular concern was graffiti spray-painted on the cement bulkhead and adjacent wooden fence owned by Norma Hagan, whose home is adjacent to the right-of-way.

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District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer (third from right) and Sherry Wilson, Division Chief of Recreation and Community Programs (second from right) gather with residents near the Inwood Terrace city right-of-way to discuss possible ways to deter graffiti and other criminal activity at the end of the street.

“What we need assistance with is the shockingly profane graffiti covering the cement walls to the water. Some neighbors have made attempts to clean the graffiti, but it keeps returning,” said Tessa Gottlieb, in a letter to Boyer. “As it stands now, many parents on the street do not feel comfortable walking their children to the water for fear of what horrible drawings and words will appear next on the walls.”

Other concerns Gottlieb raised were “steep declining steps” leading to the river and a “large sewage/drainage system” without a covering that someone, perhaps a “daredevil” teen could fall into. She also mentioned people frequently leave empty beer cans or liquor bottles in their wake, presumably driving off while intoxicated.

In the meeting, Hagan said she often observes kids partying from her upstairs windows and has often called police. JSO’s response time has been 45 minutes or longer, allowing the perpetrators plenty of time to leave, she said. “I don’t want this to become a teen hangout,” Hagan said.

Fishermen often use the right-of-way, disregarding the “No Parking” signs and often block her driveway, Hagan continued. To discourage drivers from using her driveway as a turn-around, she has hung a chain across its entrance. She also said her home has been on the market for four years with no takers because of problems with the right-of-way.

In an email to Boyer, Jason Evert, who lives down the street, suggested the city turn the right-of-way into a park so it would benefit from “regular attention” in terms of garbage collection, lighting, posted park rules and benches.

“I have asked JSO for additional enforcement already and requested a neighborhood watch designation, but there is only so much that can be done without applying the more stringent rules that apply to parks, i.e., no alcohol,” he wrote. “If the area is turned over to Parks, they can enforce the park rules,” he said at the meeting.

However, Boyer said she did not think park designation was a good idea.

“Once a right-of-way is turned into a city park it must be listed on the Parks website,” she said, adding the park could then be inundated with people from all over the city. “Inwood Terrace has no dedicated parking and no bathroom,” she said, adding, although as a park it would officially close at dusk, park rules signs “really don’t have much impact.”

Boyer said making the steep staircase leading to the water’s edge Americans with Disabilities Act complaint, as required for public parks is expensive. Instead she suggested the alternative of installing a street-level fence in front of the steps. A resident would receive a key and be charged with opening the right-of- way in the morning and closing it at night. “That way you will have a means to keep people out,” she said.

The group also discussed installing lights in the park, mentioning that motion- detection lighting might deter the vandals who paint graffiti at night. “Without lighting it’s a free-for-all,” Evert said.

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Boyer said her first inclination was to handle the problem in phases. “The first thing we can do is a fence and a trash can,” she said. “Let’s see if that helps.”

She also said she did not recommend installing lights initially because of the expense to run a line onto the right-of-way. Lights might shine in the windows of the adjacent homes. She said she would research whether the city’s Blight Committee could put up a video camera, possibly in Hagan’s yard, to see if they could catch the graffiti artists in the act.

“This isn’t totally different people,” Boyer said about the vandals. “This is somebody consistently doing this and once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Boyer said she would have a conversation with the city’s Parks and Public Works Departments to determine how the area can be regulated after sunset and how a fence can be funded. “No one has money sitting around that’s available. I’ll have to look for money that is left over from other parks,” she said.

After the meeting, Hagan said one of her neighbors took matters into his own hands and removed the graffiti from her fence.

“One of the men on the street did some research and found at least some of the kids doing the graffiti and confronted their parents,” Hagan said in an email Jan. 31. “This weekend that same man pressure washed my fence and the graffiti is gone.  With the parents of the culprits providing the paint, he is going to paint over the other walls.  I think it is very exciting someone is concerned enough to take back something they could enjoy from people that don’t appreciate its value,” she said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News
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