Guest Commentary:

Mistake after mistake after mistake

By Peter Jacklin

I believe in property rights, but not to the exclusion of my or anyone else’s personal liberties.

I believe in property development when it’s responsible, community-improving, done correctly and puts no one at jeopardy.

I believe that the proposed Trails at Santiago Creek project meets none of these criteria. Its sole purpose is to turn a landowner’s huge misjudgments and the city’s chronic malfeasance of oversight into a long term and significant burden for taxpayers.

There has been a historic lack of oversight of the mining operations on the property since the land was incorporated into the city in 1964. City leadership failed to enforce state mining laws, time after time. The city has violated its own municipal code to permit unlawful use of the land. Covenants, dating back to the early 1970’s, between the city and its citizens, have been ignored and broken.

Milan Capital bought the property 10 years ago with no strings attached. This is not a wise thing to do when you’re buying land that has been scarred by 100 years of mining, is in a flood inundation area, next to a methane-producing landfill and one mile from the highest-risk dam in Orange County. Of course, at that time, the landowner was not interested in building houses on the property. Milan wanted to build on the Ridgeline Golf Course and needed a bargaining chip with Orange Park Acres. City leadership agreed to the Ridgeline development, and the court battles began, lasting nearly 10 years. With all of their resources, Milan and the city were beaten by, what the landowner called, a bunch of “rag tag cowboys.” The Ridgeline property is now a white elephant.

The Trails project is the third time around for the former Sully-Miller mining property. Twenty years ago, the Fieldstone project proposed housing there. The city council approved the project, and later rejected it. Four years ago, the current landowner proposed the Rio Santiago project. It was summarily rejected, due to the large number of deficiencies in the proposal. The flaws of the site that were there 20 years and five years ago remain today. Several of these are unmitigable, even with modern technology

Why would anyone submit such a project and expect approval? Four hundred years ago, writing in “Henry VI,” William Shakespeare had Queen Margaret speak these words: “Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind, And makes it fearful and degenerate; Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep.”

Take revenge, she did. Along with her followers, she began the English War of the Roses that annihilated the old English nobility, caused the death of thousands, including her only son. 

Revenge is as powerful a motivator today. The public court beating that the landowner and the city took ”softens the mind(s).” They are about to repeat mistake after mistake, as they have in the past. In doing this, they are placing a dagger in the heart of a community that wants no part of a vengeful and ill-conceived housing project on land that is incapable of supporting human habitation. 

Margaret was known for her aggression and ruthlessness. In the end, she lost to the opposing forces, lost her vibrant spirit and her liberties. 

The city and Milan Capital have much to learn from history.

Peter Jacklin is a resident of Orange Park Acres.

June 2019