Proposed conservation land swap sparks controversy

Developer wants to build 1,400 homes in Julington-Durban Creek Preserve

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A proposal to swap state-owned conservation land at the Julington-Durbin Preserve for acreage 45 minutes to the north at Black Hammock Island is eliciting an early wave of criticism before it's been officially submitted to Florida regulators.

The preserve is roughly 2,000 acres of land on the Julington-Durbin Peninsula and it was turned over to state ownership as part of the state’s Conservation and Recreation Lands program. It’s managed through a partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the city of Jacksonville and the St. Johns River Water Management District.

EXPLORE: Photos of Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve

It was protected as part of a $17 million deal (the city kicked in $4 million with a unanimous vote from Jacksonville City Council) with a land trust that was partly owned by Bartram Park developer Tom Dodson.

Dodson is now floating the idea of getting 403 acres of that land back and building 1,400 homes in an already rapidly developing area. But he isn’t asking for the not insignificant parcel without offering something in return. Dodson is asking the state to accept the same amount of acreage on Black Hammock Island, which borders the Timucuan Preserve on the northeast side of Jacksonville.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman and former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney discussed the swap Wednesday on WJCT's First Coast Connect.

Delaney was mayor at the time of the land’s preservation and said then the purchase “may well be the most significant environmental land purchase in Jacksonville.”

On Wednesday, he stood by that characterization, but cited pragmatism as a reason for supporting today’s proposed land swap. Delaney will start work with the lobbying and government relations firm Fiorentino Group in September. Dodson is one of the group’s clients.