Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Land-Buy Program Succeeds Preservation Project Purchases More Acres

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Land-Buy Program Succeeds Preservation Project Purchases More Acres

Article excerpt

With the expected purchase of 86 acres of uplands and marsh near Pumpkin Hill Creek, Jacksonville's Preservation Project will have acquired nearly 5,000 acres in its first year.

Mayor John Delaney's administration yesterday asked the City Council to approve the city's share, about $110,000 -- one-quarter of the purchase price -- for the land in an area once considered for a high-end real estate development.

Like other Preservation Project deals, the St. Johns River Water Management District and other state conservation programs will provide the bulk of the money for the land now owned by Bill Birchfield, a lawyer and former state legislator.

The city's ability to gets its partners to pay most of the asking price is just one way the conservation and growth management plan has exceeded the expectations of the mayor, who announced the plan in January 1999.

The overall plan, which also includes $72 million to upgrade area parks, could spend more than $300 million in federal, state, and local funds in five years. In part, Delaney started the initiative to ensure that Northeast Florida gets its fair share of state conservation money, which he believed had not been the case in the past when the state focused on South Florida.

The Preservation Project "has been a little bit like the Jaguars," the mayor said about the program's impact. "I knew it would be big, but not this big."

So far, the Preservation Project has closed on 4,908 acres at a cost of $26.8 million, with a contribution of $5.6 million in city funds.

Also, project staff members are in various stages of talks to buy another 17,000 acres throughout Duval County. They have identified another 31,000 acres that eventually should be considered for the plan.

Delaney said the previous purchases -- including 2,055 acres along the Julington-Durbin Creek peninsula and 600 acres south of Butler Boulevard -- have served the "dual purpose" of limiting sprawl and establishing land for recreation uses. …

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