Billboard removal gets cheers from beautification group

Billboard removal gets cheers from beautification group
Bill Brinton scrutinizes the billboard near a public park in November 2014.

The last day of August 2016 was a red-letter day – and a long time coming, according to William Brinton, an Avondale attorney who has made a mission of fighting billboard blight in Jacksonville and around the country.

On Aug. 31, Brinton was joined the presidents of Scenic Jacksonville, Inc. and the Douglas Anderson #107 Alumni Association, Inc., along with members of their boards and other interested persons, to witness the removal of a billboard adjacent to a neighborhood park on the east side of I-95 northbound near Douglas Anderson School for the Arts.

After six years of litigation, Scenic Jacksonville and Outfront Media worked out an agreement, which Brinton lauded as amicable with positive outcomes for Jacksonville Neighborhoods.

“Scenic Jacksonville appreciates the cooperation of Outfront Media in removing this billboard located next to a park, in a residential area, which has a school nearby,” said Susan Caven, president of Scenic Jacksonville, for which Brinton has been long-time counsel.

The billboard was located at 2400 Gerard Ave. on property next to a city-owned community park in Spring Park. Two ordinances enacted in 2014 approved settlement agreements between Scenic Jacksonville, the City of Jacksonville, Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor (now Outfront Media).

Nearly 30 years ago, citizens of Jacksonville voted to prohibit billboards through the addition of a Charter Amendment. In 1987, 59 percent of the electorate voted to banish new billboards and remove hundreds of others from neighborhood roadways.

Turning neglected park into school legacy

The community park consists of six parcels of city-owned land with existing amenities including a sidewalk, park benches, grills and picnic tables. A Florida Department of Transportation sound wall borders one side of the property.

Scenic Jacksonville and the DA Alumni are working together to enhance the beauty of the park area, consisting of 1.75 acres, and to consider appropriate tributes to the legacy of nearby Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

The original school, initially known as South Jacksonville School #107, was built in 1922 and included grades one through nine. At that time, it was the only public school on the Southside serving African-American students. In 1945, the school was renamed the Douglas Anderson School after the black community leader Douglas Anderson (1884-1936) who spearheaded the building of the school, along with W.R. Thorpe (1893-1967).

In the late 1950s, the school expanded to be a high school and had its first graduating senior class in 1959. The school closed in 1968 as a result of school desegregation and reopened in 1985 as the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. The Alumni Association was formed in January 2009 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first senior graduating class in 1959.

Three weeks after the billboard was removed, at a meeting on Sept. 22, Scenic Jacksonville and the DA Alumni continued discussions on numerous ways to enhance the area, including planting vines and jasmine on the interior of the FDOT sound walls, as well as a variety of trees and other vegetation throughout the acreage, and adding a variety of other amenities that would further benefit the public, the neighborhood and the School of the Arts, said Brinton.

“What a difference this neighborhood improvement will make over the years. I am looking forward to working with everyone, and especially everyone who has ever attended Douglas Anderson – before 1969 and after 1985,” said Brinton, referring to the span of years when the school was closed. “I am especially proud of the role that Scenic Jacksonville has in this endeavor. This will make a great documentary of what is possible when the goal is beauty and there is unity in purpose. The first visioning session will be very exciting.”

DA School for the Arts Principal Jacqueline Cornelius immediately saw the opportunities for how the property might serve the arts education. In the coming months the leaders of both organizations plan to hold a visioning session to consider any and all ideas for benefiting all constituencies, then develop a timeline to realize and implement that vision. Their goal is to have the most beautiful park area of its size in Northeast Florida accessible to neighbors, students, alumni and the public, said Brinton.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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