Neighbors galvanized to protect property rights

“Call me a grouchy neighbor, if you want,” James Register told a group of thirty or forty residents from Nelmar Terrace and Fullerwood Park Historic District that turned out along with Historic City News reporters, a local newspaper reporter and camera crew from a Jacksonville television station.

These folks were not afraid of a little rain that threatened the planned gathering earlier in the day.

Wearing their t-shirts and showing their civic pride, the orderly group assembled on the lawn of the last remaining home in the Genopoly Street block. They turned out to voice objections to two bills before the Florida legislature — both of which would give the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind the power to take property through a legal process known as “eminent domain”.

Former Mayor George F. Gardner told Historic City News editor Michael Gold that he was proud to see what he called “an excellent example of citizenship in a democracy” where the people can express their objections to their government. “The fact that the school and the City are talking through these issues is encouraging,” Gardner said. “The resolve of this neighborhood and St Augustine residents who have shown their support for this cause, has been unwavering and inspirational.”

House Bill 1037 passed through its committees and is ready for the floor of the full House. Companion Senate Bill 1348; filed and co-sponsored by Stephen Wise, District 5, Jacksonville, made it through two committees; but, last week, was pulled by St Augustine State Senator John Thrasher.

In addition to neighborhood concerns of losing their homes to the state school, the City of St Augustine is concerned about the school’s apparent disregard for zoning and building codes enforced against everyone else in the City. The City is in mediation with the school to bring about a better working relationship between the two, as well as an agreement of understanding about future construction in the heavily residential neighborhoods to the north and south of the campus.

Neighborhood activist Gina Burrell circulated a petition which she says will be presented to local officials demonstrating the number of St Johns County residents who oppose giving the school such overreaching power to negate private property rights.

While “Lonesome” Bert Hodge and Chris Clark played their local brand of acoustic Folk music, familiar faces commiserated over the direction they want to see the City and State take with the Historic District neighborhoods that they call home.

City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline visited to show her support, as did former Mayor George Gardner, who is a Fullerwood Park Historic District resident. Melinda Rakoncay, president of the Nelmar Terrace Historic District neighborhood association, Lisa Parrish Lloyd, Stephen Alexander, James and Celeste Carr, Beth Segers, Skip Hutton, and John Morris — all of whom have spoken before the St Augustine City Commission and Florida School for the Deaf and Blind Board of Trustees, were proud to show their solidarity to protect their community from a school that they sometimes view as a bully — but who they know could be an asset, if they agree to be accountable to the same rules and standards as everyone else.

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer

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