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State grants helping Florida city protect military presence

Property around the Navy's outlying landing field in Whitehouse on Jacksonville's Westside, shown in this 2006 photo, has been a target for recent easement agreements with city officials to prevent development that could interfere with the Navy's training flights. Jacksonville recently received $500,000 in state funding to match with Navy money for additional easements benefiting Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

FLORIDA TIMES-UNION/TNS

By STEVE PATTERSON | The Florida Times-Union | Published: July 22, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Jacksonville, Fla., officials are getting state help to protect operations at the city's Navy bases by paying some neighbors to not develop their property.

A $500,000 state grant will be matched with federal funds to pay for easements barring owners from building new homes or doing things that create smoke or glare that interferes with military training.

Existing homes and low-impact uses like farming are still allowed on property with those easements, which the Navy seeks in areas the city dubs "military influence zones."

The grant money, taken with past savings, let the city's military affairs office reach a $1 million threshold that city records said could be needed for an agreement with an unidentified landowner near Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

A city spokesman declined to discuss the landowner or that property, but each $1 from the city is regularly matched with $3 in federal money for easement deals.

Jacksonville and other Florida communities routinely use easements to control development around the edges of military property.

A recent focus for that has been the Navy's Whitehouse Outlying Landing Field, where pilots preparing for deployment practice touch-and-go landings in a part of the Westside where development is becoming more common. Landowners in the influence zone have sold easements in that area for years.

"I felt it would help the military. I saw valid reasons for it down the road," said Brian Hendershot, who signed an easement in March on his family's home along Old Plank Road.

"We didn't need anything else for what we are going to do, so it was a good opportunity for us," Hendershot said. "Nobody has any more restrictions on my property than the homeowners association in your neighborhood. ... Except in this case they have a logical reason for it."

A second grant gave the city $100,000 to pay for lobbying efforts to encourage locations of ships and service members around Jacksonville,

Mayor Lenny Curry applauded the grants, saying in a news release they would bolster the city's connections with the military.

"Our city has a strong relationship with the military, particularly the U.S. Navy," Curry said. "That relationship extends beyond jobs and economic impacts. ... These two grants will further strengthen that bond and encourage increased growth in the years ahead."

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