City considers closing Avondale river access

Councilman proposes ending public access to river at Little Van Wert Avenue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A city councilman and some Avondale homeowners want the city to close an access point to the St. Johns River that they say causes nothing but problems.

The area is off Little Van Wert Avenue and Richmond Street. It's been a public access point for over a century, and one local group is trying to keep it open.

The site is small, but it's one of the few access points to the river in the area. It's actually a utility easement but people come there to fish, walk dogs and enjoy the river breeze.

But some neighbors said people come there to do much more, including illegal activities, and they want it closed off.

Keith Gardener, a landscaper for homes that border the river access point, said he's taken care of properties in the area for years and has seen many things there.

"For 21 years I am the guy who has been down here and seen it," Gardener said. "And there are times I have felt very uncomfortable because of a certain group of people that have been down here."

The homeowners did not want to comment except to say that late at night there are problems with  people who hang out near the access point. They said they've been burglarized and have seen all types of other criminal activity.

That is why Councilman Richard Clark proposed legislation to close the access and let the land become part of the adjacent homeowner properties.

"What it is, is an overgrown, very dangerous place," Clark said. "We had a neighborhood home invasion, people hiding in an overgrown bush. There is not four beer cans; there are 400 beer cans -- and whiskey bottles. People defecate back there. It is not a place people can go with their families."

But some people in the neighborhood want the river access to remain open, although they admit they have to step up and make sure it's safe. That is why a group got together over the weekend to clean up the site.

"I hate to say, 'Shame on the neighborhood,' but we have not done it in the past," resident Bryan Clontz said. "And this certainly rose to the level that it was important for us to maintain. We did a quick crowd-funding website and were able to do the first phase of the cleanup. It looks a whole lot better than it did Saturday morning. There are a whole lot of other things that need to occur in terms of safety and additional cleaning, but the neighborhood responded quickly."

Others agreed that that's what it's going to take to keep the criminal element out.

"I think if it were more cleaned up and open, you would have a lot less of that," resident Liz Ventresca said.

There will be a public hearing on the matter Tuesday night during the City Council meeting at 5 p.m. Then the legislation goes to committee for several weeks and then will return to the council for a final vote. 

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