Backlash against children's museum on Riberia Pointe

CLARIFICATION 4/30/2014: First Coast News would like to clarify this story that first aired on 4//29/2014. A neighborhood group opposes a proposed children's museum on Riberia Pointe in St. Augustine, which is the site of a reclaimed landfill.

One of the sound bites said "Everyone knows it's a toxic landfill.'"

According to the St. Augustine City Manager, the site is "not toxic" and certain types of construction can be safely built on top of it.


ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A proposed children's museum has some people who work and live in the Lincolnville neighborhood nearby unhappy.

Judith Seraphin is one of those who lives and works in Lincolnville. She's also the neighborhood association president. She and others in Lincolnville are rallying to fight development on an area of land called Riberia Pointe.

It is several acres at the end of Riberia Street and it sits on the Intracoastal Waterway. The city owns the land.

The Children's Museum of St. Johns wants that spot, and has worked with the City of St. Augustine toward a future lease. The museum is a $6.9 million project, and the museum's board president, Ben Platt, said the museum has a target of 85,000 visitors a year.

Seraphin doesn't think the two-lane Riberia Street, which runs through Lincolnville, can handle that traffic.

"If there was ever a problem and you need to get emergency vehicles in, and you need to get 85,000 people a year down Riberia," Seraphin gasped, "I don't ever want to go there!"

However, Platt said anything that goes onto Riberia Point will bring added traffic. He also said that the children's museum has received great support from people throughout St. Johns County. He said it's a few people who have chosen to oppose the museum.

Seraphin and her neighbors are also concerned about children being on Riberia Pointe for long periods of time because it's a reclaimed landfill with a thick top layer of soil.

"We also worry about the toxicity levels and possible long-term effects as well as the possible lawsuits to the City of St. Augustine," Seraphin noted.

However, Platt said part of a memorandum of understanding between the museum and the city is the museum board will do their "due diligence" to determine if they can safely build on the property. After searching for a location for years, he feels the site is a great fit for the museum.

City Manager John Regan said the site is not toxic and is safe for certain kinds of construction.

But Seraphin wants Riberia Pointe to see less development.

"We'd like to see birding trails, board walks, places where people can come and go … but nothing permanent that would pierce the cap," she said.

After neighbors voiced their opposition about the Riberia Pointe project, St. Augustine City Commissioners chose to put the project on hold this month. St. Augustine's Planning and Building Director Mark Knight said the city has asked a developing and planning firm to stop working on the project for now.

However, Platt said the museum board is still moving forward with its end of the project.

The St. Augustine Aquarium was originally part of the project for Riberia Pointe. However, the St. Augustine Aquarium founders Shawn and Kathy Hiester have chosen to pursue another site in St. Johns County.

In a statement to First Coast News, Shawn and Kathy Hiester wrote, "We remain undeterred in our mission to bring the newest aquarium to the nation's Oldest City. We have received a tremendous amount of interest and support from the community. At this time, we are actively pursuing alternate sites in St. Johns County. We want to honor the confidentiality of the conversations we are currently engaged in by declining to comment on the sites we are considering, but we hope to make an announcement about the aquarium's new location within the next 60 days."

Meanwhile, Seraphin and others in Linconville have created a group called "Keep Riberia Pointe Green" while the Children's Museum of St. Johns is also reaching out to the community through events. Both sides are eager to talk about Riberia Pointe.


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