Company Appeals Permit Denial; Developer Insists "No Significant Environmental Degradation Will Result."

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The developer of a controversial Jacksonville project has appealed a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denying a permit to fill in 167 acres of forested wetlands on the Southside.

The permit is necessary for the construction of the proposed Freedom Commerce Centre, a mixed-use complex that would possibly include stores, offices and residences.

The Goodman Co., the West Palm Beach-based firm that owns the 853-acre tract, said in a statement that the Corps' May 12 denial was "factually flawed" and that the agency "arbitrarily and capriciously" made its decision.

The wetlands that would be destroyed form the headwaters of the Julington and Pottsburg creeks, which are main tributaries of the St. Johns River. But Goodman contends that "no significant environmental degradation will result" from the project, at the southwest corner of Interstate 95 and Baymeadows Road.

Corps officials could not be reached for comment Monday. But the agency has said a main factor in turning down the permit is the site's "high quality" wetlands. The Corps also said Goodman should have "more fully considered" alternative locations for the project.

But Goodman spokesman Greg O'Brien said in an interview that the company has "done everything anyone has asked us to do on this project." To balance the loss of any wetlands, the company would set aside for permanent conservation 526 acres on the Freedom Commerce Centre site and 1,622 acres of land in St. …