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Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 2, 201512:00 PM EST

50 years ago: The real estate blight debate,1965-style

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The question of whether local government had the power to demand improvement of deteriorated private property that degraded the community was in the news in 1965 just as it is now.

The question was put to the Jacksonville Beach City Council and then, like now, answers were not immediately clear.

Hurricane Dora, which struck Jacksonville in September 1964, caused severe damage to oceanfront property.

Many structures were beyond repair. The problem was more visible in areas where some properties had been restored, while others remained in decline.

The Beaches Board of Realtors pleaded with the council to “do something about the blight.”

Ken Hendryx, a representative of the board, showed the council photographs of structures he said were unsafe, uninsurable and unoccupied. He described the buildings as eyesores and dangerous, and asked if the council legally could demand the buildings be improved or demolished.

“Realtors are the finest ambassadors a city has,” said Hendryx. “The economy rests for the most part in our hands. We advertise in the newspapers and we would never degrade the area in which we work.

“But let’s face it,” he added. “We are a laughingstock in Florida insofar as tourists are concerned. We are the only city in the state without a convention hotel or motel.”

Hendryx then praised the Jacksonville Beach redevelopment program, which included a convention hotel, but again brought up the blight.

“You have given us a new outlook and encouragement for development of the Beaches. I assure you that the first thing we show prospective buyers is our redevelopment complex. But they also see the unsightly, rundown structures, and they react in the negative,” he said.

City Attorney Stephen Stratford said the law provided for eliminating what was termed a “nuisance.” But the problem was defining nuisance.

Mayor William Wilson assured the Realtors the council would take whatever steps it legally could to force owners to improve their substandard property.

A related issue, the mowing and maintenance of private undeveloped lots, also was brought before the council. It was generally agreed the existing ordinance, under which the city cleared lots if the owners failed to do so after a certain time, was unsatisfactory, but no alternative proposal was suggested.

• Duval County Sheriff Dale Carson was summoned to Tallahassee by Gov. Haydon Burns to answer allegations that officers under his command had committed illegal acts.

Burns told Carson an investigation led him to believe the sheriff was not doing anything about the alleged misconduct.

Carson said he informed Burns the officers and the incidents were being investigated by his department and the state attorney was being consulted to determine whether prosecution was appropriate.

In March 1964, when Burns was mayor of Jacksonville, city police commissioner and a candidate for governor, Carson arrested five of Burns’ officers on charges of accepting bribes to protect gamblers. Only one of the defendants was convicted.

A ranking member of the sheriff’s department said Burns calling Carson to the capital was motivated by politics and Burns was seeking revenge for the sheriff’s role in investigating the city police department while Burns was campaigning.

Mayor Lou Ritter, who became mayor when Burns resigned to be inaugurated governor, said any police officers who refused to answer questions during the investigation would be recommended for removal from the force.

During the bribery investigation, 50 police officers were questioned by the county solicitor’s office and refused to sign waivers of immunity from criminal prosecution. The officers were not questioned further and no action was taken by the department.

• Thirty-four Explorer Scouts from the Jacksonville-area Mohawk District completed a three-day training class to allow them to enter the scout emergency preparedness program.

Jack Watson, Mohawk District adviser, said the scouts who completed the class at Camp Echockotee near Orange Park, would be eligible for service during disaster situations.

During the class, the scouts were fed Civil Defense rations limited to water, high-protein biscuits and hard candy that contained vitamin supplements.

W.A. Weatherford, director of the Jacksonville-Duval County Civil Defense Council, told the scouts of the importance of adequate shelter in preventing radiation sickness following a thermonuclear attack.

“Jacksonville has more than enough shelter space to provide for all its residents within the city limits,” he said. “However, there is still very little fallout protection in the county. We still believe that the family fallout shelter might be the best answer for rural and suburban residents who could not reach shelter in Downtown buildings suitable for the purpose.”

• A request for lower electric rates for public schools, which could save the Duval County school system thousands of dollars needed to improve public education, was taken under analysis by city Utilities Commissioner J. Dillon Kennedy.

He promised to provide a report within 30 days, following a study by his staff, the city auditor and the city attorney.

Kennedy met for nearly two hours behind closed doors with a four-member subcommittee of Duval County elected officials headed by state Rep. George Stallings.

“Mr. Kennedy has given us assurances he will proceed with dispatch in the matter,” said Stallings after the meeting.

He said Kennedy expressed a willingness to cooperate in the fullest and would thoroughly analyze the issue.

“I feel gratified that we have taken this positive step,” he said. “But there are a multitude of interlocking and overlapping facets to be considered.”

Kennedy defended his refusal to open the meeting to news media.

“There’s nothing secret about this, but I think public officials should discuss it before it is discussed in the newspapers,” he said.

• Six teenagers were placed under peace bonds for one year following a hearing before Justice of the Peace Dorcas Drake on charges they heckled students and teachers at Matthew Gilbert High School.

All were dropouts from the school.

Assistant Principal James Thompson said the boys often shouted abusive language at fans going to basketball games, gambled on street corners near the school and lured students away from school grounds.

A seventh youth was bound over to Criminal Court on a charge he pulled a gun on a student at the school.

• The City Commission received a request from the Experimental Aircraft Association to construct a storage building at Herlong Field.

Association members built and flew small racing aircraft and had used the field for years, said city Airports Manager James Howard.

In other business, the commission approved a request by the Jacksonville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to dig a 700-foot-deep water well at the bank’s site at 515 Julia St. in connection with a fallout shelter being built.

A request for retirement was submitted by Police Sgt. Omage Smith, who was completing his 28th year of service. If approved by the Fire and Police Pension Advisory Committee, Smith would receive $286 a month in pension benefits.

• Many Duval County homeowners — perhaps as many as 30,000 — would be paying for the first time ad valorem taxes on tangible personal property when tax bills were mailed in 1965.

Tangible personal property in the home, as distinguished from real estate or intangible personal property such as money, stocks and bonds, could include anything from the family dog to a freezer to a wedding ring.

Other items subject to taxation included livestock and poultry, firearms, fishing tackle, furniture, appliances, works of art, musical instruments and clothing including socks and underwear.

The change in policy was related to a Circuit Court decision requiring assessment of real estate in 1965 at fair market value of the property in order for the county to adequately fund the public school system.

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