Monday, January 07, 2008

Equestrian homesites nixed

Equestrian homesites nixed

Special to The Record
Publication Date: 01/04/08
Dozens of residents from the Riverdale area off County Road 13 showed up to speak to the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency on Thursday afternoon, opposing the proposed equestrian-style residential community a developer wants to build on rural farmland along the river.
After much discussion and public comments, the Agency voted to deny the developer's request to rezone 1,117 acres from its present Open Rural (OR) designation to Planned Rural Development (PRD) status to allow for the project, which would bring 223 single-family homes to an area that is popular among local residents for its quiet, rural beauty.
The area is bordered by the William Bartram Scenic Highway, which runs along the east side of the St. Johns River from Jacksonville south to northwestern St. Johns County on County Road 13. The highway is named for William Bartram, an American naturalist.
Local residents cited many concerns about the potential development, which would allow its property owners to have horses, barns and paddocks in the "reserve" area of their lots and provide riding trails through the natural habitat.
Chief among those concerns was the extra traffic the development would create and the threat to wildlife such as red foxes, gopher tortoises and bald eagles that live in the area.
"We are the last unspoiled section of the William Bartram Scenic Highway," said resident Mike Macnamara. "We want to continue to live in a rural environment. Turn down this PRD -- we don't need it."
Macnamara said the current traffic volume in the area was already a problem, and that adding a development which would have one entrance point onto County Road 13 would create "one massive bottleneck."
Other residents echoed Macnamara's points and also brought up issues of fire service, water and wildlife intrusion.
Gary Davenport, who spoke for the developer, said the project was not urban sprawl and that its proposed plan fell within the definitions prescribed by county codes and was consistent with the county's Comprehensive Plan.
Member David Wiles said the most important questions to consider for the proposed development are compatibility and concurrency.
"We could argue either way on this," Wiles said. "Is it compatible? I am as concerned about Riverdale as a particular project as I am about future developments using this as a precedent for their plans."
After listening to all the presentations, Wiles said he was opposed to the project, which he said was not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan's land use criteria or zoning requirements.
Wiles made a motion to deny the PRD, and Doug Laidlaw seconded it. The Agency members voted 6-1 against the PRD request. The dissenting vote was cast by Chairman Henry Green.

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