OPINION | Keep the faith even after approval for storage in San Marco

Despite unanimously approving a plan that would ban the construction of self-storage facilities in Jacksonville’s “Downtown,” an area that includes San Marco, city council members voted 11-8 last week to grant a major exception to their own to make a rule.

Like any good parent: do as I say, not as I do.

The City Council majority not only made an exception to its own rule, but did so despite significant neighborhood opposition and over the objections of San Marco City Council Representative Joe Carlucci.

This kind of majority action in the city council can encourage people, if not to a deeply cynical view of local government, then certainly to the feeling that citizen involvement in local public affairs is futile. So much for the “government closest to the people” being the best.

No one is listening, so why bother?

Overwrite the overlay

The residents, citizens and voters of San Marco have lost a multi-year, hard-fought effort to preserve the character of their neighborhood – a character that was effectively codified in the 2019 overlay – only because the developer included four floors of affordable housing in the project.

It’s not cynical to say that without the affordable housing component, the proposed storage facility would most likely have failed. That was already the case.

City council members conceded as much, arguing that the inclusion of affordable housing tipped the balance in the developer’s favor, allowing members to justify their vote to overlay the overlay. And they’re right: Jacksonville suffers from a lack of housing that working people can afford.

Don’t be fooled. The primary purpose of the development remains self-storage, otherwise this development would be an affordable housing project without self-storage.

But its design – which has yet to be approved – will have to be in accordance with the neighborhood plan. There remains some hope.

Never give up

Once we elect people to public office, we cannot leave them to fend for themselves. Our representatives make better decisions when their discretion is determined by the many they are charged with representing, not the few who benefit financially from the decisions they make.

Let them never forget that we elected them to always put the public interest above private gain. Elected people too often confuse the two, claiming that their job is to subsidize private development with public dollars because the public benefits in some way, even if only temporarily and indirectly. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

While the City Council majority may have neutered the Downtown overlay and defied the considered opinion of San Marco’s engaged citizens, the majority received only eleven votes. Two more “no” votes would have killed the deal. The public engagement on this issue by San Marco residents over several years is admirable and a victory of sorts. We must take courage and not despair.

So . . . take a collective deep breath, continue organizing, writing, calling and emailing city council members, showing up for their meetings, and weighing in on this development as it unfolds.

Citizen involvement is important. Never doubt it.

Do not stop believing.