ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Concerns are being raised in Orange Park by African-American residents who fear their neighborhoods are being targeted for development at the expense of their own homes. Town leaders are pushing back, saying that’s not happening.
The issue came to a head at the Orange Park Town Council meeting Tuesday evening when numerous Black residents got up to speak about their concerns.
This stems from a move by the town’s Economic and Community Development Committee, which asked town staff to compile a list of all the available property in Orange Park that could be developed. That list includes vacant commercial land, town-owned land and private homes that have existing utility liens. Those private homes are the ones that are causing concern among some residents who showed up to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.
Town Councilman Eddie Henley said a list of six homes was presented at the meeting and all the homes were owned by Blacks.
“What you’re doing is you’re preparing a place that’s going to be beautiful, and it’s going to Blackless -- not blacklisted -- Blackless. It’s going to be minority-less,” said resident Desiree White Allen.
Henley, who is also on the Economic & Community Development Committee, said there is no targeting of owners by race. Beyond that, he said private homes would not be targeted for development.
“It’s not true. There’s no authority for the town to do such,” said Henley.
He said the town would like to work with those homeowners who have utility liens to fix this issue.
“And also to work with the property owners to resolve it in the most efficient positive way we can -- even if it’s making payments until the liens are completed or resolved,” he said.
The Economic and Community Development Committee only has two Town Council members on it, along with members of the community. It has no legal authority and just reports findings to the full Town Council.
Since this issue came up Tuesday, the committee has adjusted its need for vacant land to not include homes. The town manager told News4Jax it appears that there was a miscommunication and the committee never actually wanted a list of private homes with liens.
Tuesday’s Town Council meeting also brought up another issue involving how the town is using money from the CARES Act that is given to local governments to help with COVID-19-related issues. Some speakers at Tuesday’s meeting thought some of those funds should be used to help lower-income neighborhoods where residents fee
“I’m just gonna ask can you all be more supportive? Just ride by. It’s not going to hurt you all to ride by the circle. It’s not going to hurt you to ride by and say, ‘Hi, I’m the mayor of the town,’ ‘Hi, I’m from Town Hall,’” one commenter said to the Town Council.
The Economic and Community Development Committee doesn’t meet again until next month.
These issues arise as the town is in the middle of an election cycle with two seats on the Town Council up for election.