Murray Hill ‘smell’ addressed during District 14 Town meeting

The toxic-smelling odor that has been wafting through Murray Hill recently in the morning was just one of several issues discussed when District 14 Councilwoman Randy DeFoor held a virtual town meeting Oct. 1.

“I have asthma, but I know of many people in Murray Hill that have health issues and they cannot go outside when it’s like this,” said Shane, a Murray Hill resident. “It happens two or three times a week and sometimes for two or three days in a row. It is a haze or fog that rolls through the neighborhood, and it’s gone in a couple of hours. But during that time, you can’t go outside. I’m concerned with what they are pumping into the air,” he said. 

DeFoor called on Melissa Long, chief of the City of Jacksonville’s Environmental Quality Division, to address the issue. Long was one of several city officials that were invited to speak during the Zoom meeting that 43 residents attended. Others included Daryl Joseph, director of City Parks, Recreation, and Community Services, Assistant Chief Dan Shelton from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department, Bill Joyce, operations director of the City Public Works department, Dawn Lockhart, director of Strategic Partnerships on the City’s Census Report, and State Representative Wyman Duggan. Duggan addressed several sediment spills in Ortega River caused by subcontractors working on the Ortega Park/Roosevelt Mall project and discussed the status of legislation concerning derelict and abandoned boats in the Ortega River. He said he plans to hold public meetings in the future to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, Long acknowledged that the odor, which smells like turpentine, exists and that it can be “very bad.” She explained the procedures residents need to follow to adequately file a complaint with the city about the odor. Complaints cannot be filed anonymously, she said.

“Our rule requires that we contact you, and we can’t if you are anonymous. We can’t do anything with that information. The companies won’t act unless we have that information. It’s in the ordinance,” she said.

“We’ve asked all the citizens to please contact 630-City to put in a complaint,” she continued, adding that once a complaint has been registered, city officials will call the resident to verify it and meet with them at their homes. “We need to verify these complaints and when we know where it’s coming from, we will then contact the company,” she said. Many in the community believe the noxious odors may be coming from IFF – International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., which is located at 2051 North Lane Avenue. “IFF is not saying that it is them,” Long said. 

Long explained that her department needs five “verified” reports from separate households within 90 days to be able to send the “packet” along to enforcement for review, she said. City officials are required to respond to a complaint within four hours after receiving it. She acknowledged the smell often dissipates by the time someone from the city is available to check it out, making the process a challenge. However, once five verified complaints from separate households are gathered within 90 days and the information is checked to ensure it is “consistent,” her department can send a cease and desist letter to the facility that’s been identified as the source of the smell. “We start our discussion with them if everything is good to go. Eventually the company is fined, but more important, the city wants to seek “corrective actions,” she said. 

“One of the complaints we received was on Sept. 16, and we verified it. We then got with IFF. They had a seal that was leaking, and they fixed it the same day,” she said. 

“I know the smell is bad. I’ve heard from a lot of people, but please, please, please keep contacting us. We will get this resolved, hopefully sooner rather than later,” she continued, noting that most of the complaints come from Murray Hill but a few have been made from Riverside. “We’ve had trickles of complaints over the last four or five years, but this has been really concentrated so things have to have changed. We want to get to the bottom of it,” she said.

Progress in Parks

Joseph said there are 27 parks in District 14, and he recounted the improvements being made to 13 of them. 

In Murray Hill Park and Playground, the City Council recently approved $225,000 in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the facility, and the city recently completed a security lighting project, he said.

“Track lights have been repaired at the City’s 103rd Go-Cart Track, a facility a lot of residents are not aware of, Joseph said. 

A gazebo suitable for weddings is being installed in Baker Point Park. The project is privately funded, and it is estimated it will be finished by the end of 2020 with new plantings being installed in the spring.

The Memorial Park balustrade, which was damaged in Hurricane Irma, has been funded and the contractor is set to begin, Joseph said, noting the project is scheduled to be finished by spring 2021.

At Argyle Forest Park the batting cage project has been completed, and the City is adding additional lighting.

The City is replacing the existing light locker in Fishweir Park – “a green building that has seen better days” – and the project is expected to be finished in the fall of 2020. “We are relocating the electrical and putting it in a secure location,” Joseph said, adding that the city has already resurfaced the park’s basketball court and is currently working on a walking trail.

John Murray Forbes Park near Ascension St. Vincent’s Medical Center is being completely redone and will be finished in the fall of 2020, Joseph said. “We have been working closely with Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP) and St. Vincent’s to redo this park. And we are working closely with RAP to make sure the correct memorials will be put in place,” he said.

The “heavily used” John Gorrie Dog Park will also receive improvements, and the City is working closely with RAP to ensure they are appropriate, he said.

Pickleball courts will be installed in Boone Park. “My goal is to have pickleball installed by the end of the year,” Joseph said. “It’s the fastest growing sport in the United States.”

Post Street Park, near River and Post restaurant, will be complete in the summer of 2021 and is an important asset to activate the river, Joseph said. A floating dock will be installed at the park in the spring at a cost of $500,000, said DeFoor. “It’s a big deal. It will help us with transportation from Downtown to 5 Points to San Marco. By allowing residents to take the river taxi, this will increase access to 5 Points triangle and will allow access to the St. Johns River.”

In Riverside Park, aerators have been replaced in the duck pond. “Some capital improvement funding is coming over the next couple of years,” Joseph said. “We will be working with a community group in the area to come up with an overall plan as to what the park will look like as we move forward.” Also,  Joseph thanked the Friends of Riverside Park, who have been instrumental in planting vegetation and assisting in cleaning up the park. 

Lomax Street

Currently under construction are improvements to Lomax Street in 5 Points, a project that will cost $820,000 and is estimated to be complete in the spring of 2022. The improvements will increase traffic and pedestrian safety in the 5 Points commercial zone and beautify the area with much wider sidewalks that will allow for outside seating at local restaurants. Also added will be benches, trash cans and bike racks, said DeFoor, adding that the iconic beacon, which is currently in storage, will be returned to the intersection once the project is finished. 

Future capital improvement and district projects slated to be undertaken between 2022 and 2024 are:  $375,000 proposed funding for improvements to Apache Avenue curbs and gutters; $310,000 proposed funding for Dancy Street curbs and gutters; and $2 million in proposed funding to improve the duck pond in Riverside Park.

DeFoor also said she is working with the Murray Hill Preservation Association and the Cultural Council of Jacksonville to bring artistic lighting to the Edgewood Overpass. This project has been delayed until the Florida Department of Transportation is finished with road improvements on Edgewood Avenue, she said.

As chairman of the City’s Resiliency Committee, DeFoor also spoke of ways to make her neighborhoods better able to recover quickly after hurricanes or intense flooding events. The city has funded a Chief Resiliency Officer (CRO), she said, and the CRO will be tasked with developing a master plan for the city. Ways to add resiliency to the District 14 include adopting Adaptation Action Area (AAA)  recommendations to consider appropriate responses to current and future risks related to sea-level rise, adding living shorelines, increasing native plantings and trees to absorb water, re-claiming land in low-lying areas, restoring wetlands, and making improvements to building codes. The 2020-2021 budget will also fund the cleaning of all outfall ditches every year, whereas previous budgets only allowed for a certain number to be cleaned upon request, she said.

Joyce also discussed the Willow Branch Canal project and the residents’ concern that at least 75 trees might be removed to accommodate the project. Joyce said the city is looking for a “big picture fix,” with the park and that he could not promise more trees would not be removed, but that the city would be doing everything in its power to save the trees as it works to replace the canal’s retaining walls.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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