Woman faces $15K fine for pond she didn't know she owned

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You see retention ponds everywhere, from the highways to subdivisions.

Mazzetta James has a retention pond in her Crystals Springs Road subdivision and just discovered the pond is her responsibility.

"I'm so upset," said James, "I haven't been able to sleep."

James, 77, is a retired federal employee who maintains her property. Her brick home and manicured lawn backs up to the pond; she said she has always hated how it looks but never in a million years expectd the City of Jacksonville to cite her for the condition of the pond.

"Since I've gotten this citation, I have been a nervous wreck," she said.

James is not a newcomer. She and her husband moved into their West Jacksonville home 28 years ago; he died a few years ago. She said the condition of the pond near her home was never their responsibility.

But recently, the city received complaints about how unsightly the pond looks; the Municipal Code Enforcement Division did a property search found out James owns half of the pond and the homeowner at the other end owns the other half.

She received a letter telling her it is her responsibility and she was issue a notice to abate the nuisance.

"They want me to remove all of the cattails, cut the bushes and trim the trees and landscape the area," she said.

Surprised by her new responsibility, James said she began getting quotes for a clean up from various aquatic companies and the numbers were staggering.

"Over $15,000 just for my half," she said. Her half because there's a homeowner on the other end of the pond.

"It shouldn't be my responsibility," said James, "It should be the responsibility of the whole community."

The problem is there is no homeowners association, so while the pond serves the entire community, it does not belong to an HOA.

James said the problem was created by the developer, who was given the state permit to build the pond. The developer, however, is no longer in business.

"I would like to to see the city come in here and clean it up and if they don't that, I'd like to see them put the burden on all the community, all of us sharing to clean it," said James.

Attorney Lee Osborne said the city is right, even though it seems wrong.

"They can do it," said Osborne.

But he said there's a possible solution and he is now working with James to resolve it before the city begins imposing fines and penalties.

"We can give the property to the St. Johns Water Management District," said Osborne, "That is, if she doesn't want it."

He is working on it. So is the District Councilman Doyle Carter.

"I don't think the city should hold Mrs. James liable," said Carter.

Carter said he is trying to get someone to clean up the pond, but has no one as yet.

"If they fine her, I will not be happy," he said.

In the meantime, Code Enforcement plans to inspect the pond again on March 7 to see if James has made any effort to abate the nuisance.


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