Residents discuss options for future of Riverfront Park

Many residents living adjacent to Riverfront Park in San Marco say public fishing in the park has ruined their quality of life.

Responding to a litany of emails from residents, many of which requested fishing be banned from the park, District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer held a public meeting Nov. 5 to hear complaints and discuss possible solutions.

Approximately 20 residents came to the meeting, which was also attended by Daryl Joseph, Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services; John Pappas, Director of Public Works Department, and Charles Moreland, Director of Public Affairs from Mayor Lenny Curry’s office. Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Mat Nemeth of Zone 3 observed the meeting from the rear of the auditorium, but made no comment.

During the nearly three-hour meeting, most residents said they have “nothing against fishing” but that “the culture of fishing” in the park is their prime concern.

Many were aggravated by the fishermen’s blatant disregard of park rules and hours. Others complained of a lack of parking, traffic congestion on River Road, loud noise, late-night partying, marijuana use, the incessant use of alcohol, profanity, public urination and defecation, littering, trespassing, theft of water from the hoses outside their homes, and destruction to the park property caused by PVC pipe being hammered into the turf near the bulkhead.

“Nighttime, daytime, all the time, they are yelling out front,” complained one resident. “It’s impossible to sleep or watch television late at night, even with the windows closed.”

“They urinate in my yard. My backyard smells like a latrine,” one furious homeowner said. “When I asked them to have some class, they threatened to kill me, my wife and my children,” he said, adding he had brought photographic evidence to back up his claim. “Nothing is done about it,” he said.

“They come into my yard and do whatever they want. I’m afraid to go out anymore,” echoed a woman.

“They used to call this San Marco beach, and people used to sunbath here, but you can’t do it anymore, you can’t get between the poles,” said another homeowner.

Another resident agreed. “I bought my property in the spring and thought I could take my eight-year-old daughter out to sit on the bank in the summertime, but it’s nothing but fisherman. This isn’t a park, it’s a fishing pier,” he said.

After spending the day and cleaning their catch, the fishermen often leave fish heads and tails, bait, fishing line and trash behind, which attract vermin, said a homeowner.

“They are damaging the park itself. They do whatever they want, whenever they want,” said one unhappy resident. His sentiments were echoed by another, “They’ve homesteaded this park. They’ve taken ownership,” she said. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s their park and they can do what they want to do.”

Just say ‘no’ to fishing not an option

Pointing to Boyer and the other city officials, the residents questioned whether the swath of green-space near their homes should be a park. “The park is public, but is that really a park?” one man asked. “It’s a strip of land that should be governed by the city. You have a responsibility to us and not the city.”

Fishing_03It was also noted that officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office were “doing their best.” One resident said, “JSO’s hands are tied. They have to catch them doing things themselves.”

After hearing specific issues, Boyer and the other city officials said closing the park for fishing was not an option. “It’s the goal of the administration to have a quality of life that will allow fishing to exist,” said Moreland.

“We want to put things out there to make things better without restricting complete (public) access,” Boyer said.

Boyer asked whether a metal fence around the park or on the city property surrounding their homes, which would be gated and paid for by the city, would solve the problem. The city could even place a gate on the alley behind their buildings, she said. “It might impair your view, but it should keep out everyone after dark,” she said.

Another suggestion posed by Boyer, which was well received by the residents, was the possibility of making a River Road a one-way street going northbound between Landon Avenue and Laverne Street. After Laverne, River Road would become two-way again. Preventing two-way traffic on this stretch of River Road could make things safer in front of their homes, Boyer said.

Also discussed was the idea of narrowing the street to extend more land into the park area and installing angle parking in front of the homes. While the fishermen could park off the curb, it might compound the problem because more parking would exist allowing more fishermen to fish in the park. Two-hour parking could be installed until 5 p.m., Boyer said, but that idea did not go over well with the residents.

Having the city insist fishermen have a special permit to fish in the park was discussed. “This could be revoked if they do not obey park rules,” Joseph said, noting the city could then limit the number of permits available, thus helping to curb the number of people fishing in the park.

Installing picnic tables as well as concrete rod holders along the bulkhead to protect the turf was also discussed. Cameras might be installed to monitor all activity, Joseph said. If fishermen damage the holders they could be charged with defacing city property, he said.

Boyer said Joseph would draw up plans illustrating some of the ideas that were discussed. Another meeting will be held in early December to discuss the issue again, she said.

“Why can’t we just say no to fishing?” more than one resident asked late in the meeting. “The city will spend thousands to allow 30 to 40 people to fish,” said one man.

But to city officials, limiting people’s access is not an option. “We need to make a concerted effort to find a reasonable solution without the drastic step of eliminating fishing altogether,” Moreland said. “You have a true advocate in this area in Councilwoman Boyer. She wants to find everyday solutions. She’ll make sure money is only spent where it is needed.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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