Focus groups help shape the future of College Drive

By Wesley LeBlanc [email protected]

ORANGE PARK – A group of county leader volunteers are using focus groups to see what residents think about what College Drive should look like in the future.

The first of at least three of the concentration campaigns took place last Thursday, August 19, at the Thrasher-Horne Center on College Drive, with the second taking place two days later at Mercy Support Services.

Former Orange Park Mayor Connie Thomas wants local residents to participate in the next Zoom call. Thomas said anyone interested in participating virtually should send an email of interest to [email protected] Future dates and forums have not yet been determined but will be posted soon.

“It’s important that this just remains a discussion because that’s all it is right now at the end of the day,” Thomas told a crowd of around 30 at Thrasher-Horne. “We are having a discussion to talk about our hopes and dreams regarding the conduct of colleges and our concerns regarding the conduct of colleges, because we want things to be especially great for our residents. It is a unique moment. “

Each participant was able to freely choose where to sit. The group of about 30 people naturally split into groups of three of equal size. About a third of the participants were College Drive residents, and each of the three groups had their own share of College Drive residents. The two-hour event was simple in concept: each group had the same talk about future College Drive screenings.

Many commented on how effective and friendly the discussion remained, despite disagreements on certain points.

“I appreciate the freedom with which we were able to speak,” said one participant. “It wasn’t like [public government meetings] where a microphone is pushed in your face for three minutes and that’s all you get. I felt like everyone here was really listening to each other and I really enjoyed that.

Each forum started with groups talking roughly about what they liked and didn’t like about College Drive. One of the dominant concerns was trafficking. The majority of people agreed that most drivers, including about 20,000 cars on the road each day, ignore the posted speed limit of 45 mph. They also agreed that additional traffic lights could be installed, particularly around school zones to increase the safety of children dropped off on College Drive. School buses do not enter neighborhoods and drop children on the road.

Looking to the future, many have said they would like to see more restaurants and businesses to make College Drive a destination rather than a passage between State Road 21 and Blanding Boulevard.

After the larger discussion period, each group was presented with three possible “approaches” to College Drive. The first was “to improve road and transport safety”. Most touched on things already discussed previously, such as better policing to keep drivers at the speed limit, additional traffic lights to facilitate traffic, and school zones to increase safety around students dropped off on the road. .

Many agreed that transit for the many nonprofit resources and buildings on College Drive would be great, but some pointed out that a commitment to transit as a whole would need to take place in Clay County for that to happen. it is a success. Most everyone agreed that the Old Jennings Road intersection may need improvement.

The second approach was “the value of living and working together – human care”. This approach has focused on increasing the number of nonprofits and their collaboration on College Drive, which is already home to places like The Way Clinic, the Pace Center for Girls, the Veterans Office and the St. Johns River State College. Many liked the idea, but fear that a tent city for the homeless could happen, although leaders have said they will ensure that does not happen.

Bob Olson, who sits on the board of directors for Mercy Support Services, said Mercy and the other Clay County support organizations are focused on developing people so they don’t need to live in an environment. homeless camp. Another aspect of this approach was to create a College Drive master plan or establish a College Drive neighborhood association. Many residents already pay the owner association fee, so an additional association was not too appealing.

The main lessons of the second approach were collaboration and communication. Everyone agreed that residents of College Drive should have a heavy hand in the future of the area. They suggested intense solicitation before any project approval to get residents’ opinions as well as social media connectivity and communication with the homeowners association to help spread the word.

“We are the ones who live here, so I think it’s important that we have our say,” said one resident.

The final approach was perhaps the most popular: “to create a destination for thriving businesses and the value of the cultural arts”. The approach is to turn College Drive into a destination in Clay County. Many have suggested that College Drive do something like Green Cove Springs Food Truck Fridays. In fact, the most agreed thing.

Many attendees also said they would like to see more “mom and pop” restaurants established. They said it was difficult to convince a good restaurant to move to College Drive and suggested the county offer some sort of incentive program to keep restaurants for several years. More restaurants would strengthen the cultural values ​​of the region. Maybe a craft brewery makes College Drive their home, and public transportation can transport someone from a restaurant to the brewery and to a concert or show at Thrasher-Horne.

Each of the three groups shared their general thoughts on each approach and their three main takeaways from the process. The top three takeaways were communication and collaboration, whether between businesses or between residents, additional things to do to make College Drive a destination, and a strong focus on improving traffic flow. and road safety in the region.

Thomas said the first two meetings were a great success and that she is excited about what’s to come. The College Drive initiative hopes to hold more of these events to gather additional information about what residents think. She encouraged anyone interested to follow the College Drive Initiative Facebook page to learn more about it and to find out when the next forums are.

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