City of Jacksonville fines rowing club as illegal business

Homeowners fed up with Evans Rowing Club in their neighborhood

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A group of Mandarin homeowners is up in arms over a business that city officials admit is operating illegally in their neighborhood. 

"Every day after work, the traffic here is ridiculous," Barry Muffly told the I-TEAM.

Muffly said Evans Rowing Club is operating off Hillwood Road, a dead-end road in his neighborhood, causing traffic to be intolerable and dangerous at least four times a week.

Besides the traffic issues, Muffly blames parents who are dropping off their kids off at the rowing club for damaging mailboxes and neighbors' yards.

"As they're dropping off and passing each other, mailboxes are getting hit, the little reflectors are getting run over," Muffly said. "Our mailbox got hit six times when we first built, and that's why I put the mailbox over here and off the road, because they just speed up and down here. So it's very dangerous."

The Evans Rowing Club's website advertises rowing lessons for middle and high schoolers, as well as private lessons for both sculling and sweep rowing. It even has a summer camp. 

But Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg said it shouldn't be operating in the Mandarin neighborhood and questioned the way the club originally obtained its business permit.

"They got a permit saying they were like a country club. Well, you can't be a country club in a neighborhood just because you have 90-foot lots and have property on the river, which is Julington Creek," Schellenberg told the I-TEAM. 

Schellenberg said the city mistakenly issued Evans Rowing Club a permit, which was revoked Sept. 21. The business appealed that ruling, but that was denied Nov. 7.

Since Nov. 17, the city fined the club $565 for unpermitted land use, operating a business without a certificate of use and illegal signage.

But the rowing club's attorney, Barry Bobeck, doesn't think the club members are the ones responsible.

"First of all, it was news to us," Bobeck said. "They never brought us any complaint that that was done. We could have responded."

Bobeck is petitioning the court to reverse the ruling that led to the rowing club’s permit being revoked. Bobeck said his client worked closely with the city to obtain legal permission to open its doors. 

"Cory Evans, her husband, went through the whole gamut to get that certificate of use," Bobeck said. "They went to City Hall, second floor. They checked zoning. They checked (with the) fire marshal. They were good to go."  

Bobeck said in his opinion, Evans Rowing Club is a yacht club, which is what the city originally approved through its certificate of use. He is confident the court will rule in his favor.

The rowing club's owners told the I-TEAM no damage has been done to mailboxes or reflectors. Corey Evans also said the club worked with the city every step of the way to get a permit. She said they are following the law.

Evans also said the good of the rowing club's program has been overlooked in all of this, saying rowing builds confidence, self-esteem and, in many cases, can end up earning a student a scholarship.

Schellenberg told News4Jax the parents are just as guilty as the people running the business.

"Their clients, which are the rowing club (parents), why are you still going there?" Schellenberg said. "I actually blame, right now, the people that are going to Evans Rowing (Club), paying them money to be a part of a club. What's wrong with them?" 

It's unclear when a judge will make a final decision on whether or not Evans Rowing Club can continue doing business.

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