JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The owners of a rowing club that shut down this month following a battle with residents over traffic congestion in its Mandarin neighborhood, spoke exclusively to the I-TEAM to tell their side of the long-running fight.
Corie and Ronnie Evans, the owners of Evans Rowing Club, said they followed all of the city's rules and are now concerned about the 70 middle school and high school athletes impacted by the closure.
A judge decided April 1 not to allow lawyers for Evans Rowing Club to appeal the city's decision to stop the club from operating along Hillwood Road. That decision essentially shut down the club where rowers practiced on Julington Creek several times a week.
The Evans' said that long before they set up shop in the residential neighborhood, they sat down and consulted with code enforcement officials who told them they were within the law.
"Before we even had thoughts of starting a club, we met with the city and zoning commission department for hours going over all the steps of what we needed to do," Ronnie Evans told the I-TEAM.
He said he's disheartened by the judge’s decision to not let them appeal.
"We followed their directions every step of the way from day one which is one of the reasons we were granted that (certificate of use) right away because we followed the steps," he added.
He said the city even suggested they operate along Hillwood Road.
"They suggested that road on Julington Creek Road,” Evans said.
But two months after the city issued the club a certificate of use, or COU, the city revoked it, admitting that it mistakenly approved the rowing club in the residential neighborhood. Evans said unfortunately, the wheels were already in motion for the business.
"Everything was moving along perfectly fine and we were kind of surprised by that,” he explained.
Residents who live along Hillwood Road complained of traffic and congestion, but the Evans tell a different story -- saying residents tried to obstruct the road before practice in an effort to create a problem.
"They would kind of wait and then once 4 o’clock hits, people would start trickling in here and there, they would at that point start trying to become an obstruction and continuously do that up until people arrive,” he said.
Currently, there are four weeks left in the rowing season, and Evans tells us he wishes a judge would have delayed the ruling to shut them down until then.
Evans said his middle and high school athletes are disappointed, and he wants the community to see the good that rowing does for teenagers.
"At this point, we are four weeks away from the end of our season and everything you train for all year long is the culmination to their state and regional championships,” he explained.
Evans said there was no problem with their certificate of use until City Council Member Matt Schellenberg got involved and contacted the director of code compliance.
Schellenberg told News4Jax he was just doing what he's expected to do as a City Council member. Schellenburg said the only thing he did was relay the homeowners' complaints about traffic along Hillwood Road to the city's planning board.
The Evans are considering legal action against the city.
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