Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Proposed Development Roughed Up in Hearing; about 30 People Speak before Administrative Judge; They Slam Freedom Commerce Centre

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Proposed Development Roughed Up in Hearing; about 30 People Speak before Administrative Judge; They Slam Freedom Commerce Centre

Article excerpt

Byline: JORDAN RODACK

Janet Larson slipped the covers off four jars filled with water, each coming from a different source in Jacksonville.

Tap water from her home was crystal clear. Regular creek water had a tinge of green. Water from near a construction site was murky and muddy. And water from the area of the proposed Freedom Commerce Centre was almost as clean and clear as the tap water.

Larson said she fears that if the Freedom Commerce Centre is allowed to be built, the water in that area would no longer be clear and about 130 acres of forested wetlands would be irrevocably harmed.

Larson, from Jacksonville Beach, was one of about 30 people to speak out against the proposed development Tuesday during the first public comment hearing on the planned project and its potential impacts on Julington Creek, Pottsburg Creek and the St. Johns River.

"Save the last valuable piece of wetlands," Larson said.

Last year, the St. Johns River Water Management District Board staff recommended approval of the Freedom Commerce Centre's application to build retail, residential and office buildings off Philips Highway south of Baymeadows Road. The board itself has final determination on whether to issue a permit.

However, the Sierra Club and St. Johns Riverkeeper challenged the staff's decision, which led to a hearing before a state administrative judge on whether the staff correctly applied state rules when it approved the permit. The hearing began April 18 and is expected to conclude Thursday.

On Tuesday, the judge allowed more than two hours of public comment. And those who spoke made no qualms about their position on the proposed project.

Speakers, some wearing stickers that read "Save Julington and Pottsburg Creeks" and "Say NO! To Freedom Commerce," were civil but forceful in their testimony. They said they were not against development in general, just not in the proposed location.

Some spoke of their grandchildren and how the development would affect them. Others spoke of their use of the waterways for recreational activities and others said how this would be just the tip of the iceberg in which developers seek to develop on valuable wetlands. …

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