Wednesday, February 18, 2009

County OKs 365-home project

County OKs 365-home project

Worries exist about burden on schools, roads

Publication Date: 02/18/09

The St. Johns County Commission on Tuesday approved a 365-home, 283-acre housing project on Greenbriar Road, despite being told that it is a former bombing range, will overcrowd nearby schools, cause traffic gridlock and stretch emergency services.

That project, Anderson Greenbriar, is south of Greenbriar Road and east of Rivertown's eastern edge.

Lindsay Haga, development services director, said the property already has final concurrency -- space on the roads for its traffic -- though that expires in December.

"There is no evidence of any high-explosive bombs," Haga said, adding that Anderson Greenbriar is "consistent with the (county's) Comprehensive Plan."

Construction work on the Interstate 95-County Road 210 intersection, and the lack of school concurrency -- enough classrooms for the 263 to 288 children the complex will bring -- kept this application on ice since 2007, when the Planning & Zoning Agency turned it down 6-0.

"Those (problems) have been addressed," Haga said.

However, Commissioner Ken Bryan said the schools in the Northwest were already at or above capacity.

"There will be financial burdens due to over development in that area," Bryan said. "I'm not able to support this."

Attorney George McClure of McClure, Bloodworth, St. Augustine, representing the developer, said $1.7 million was already paid to the county in transportation impact fees. He added that school concurrency was adopted in August 2008 and the developer must meet those guidelines.

"We can't put a shovel in the ground until we demonstrate that we have capacity for those students," he said.

Previous developments with no nearby school capacity have decided to build schools or pay the School District enough cash to cover the cost of adding more students.

McClure said the developer was asked to postpone the project until the I-95-C.R. 210 intersection improvements were funded and the work started.

"In the current (economic) environment, we're not going to see very much happening on that site for awhile," he said.

Nearby resident Tom Sciandra told the commission that homeowners in his development opposed this project because of its size, quarter-acre lot sizes, additional traffic, school overcrowding and unauthorized land clearing.

"What (the developer) showed us at the public meeting is not what they are showing to you," Sciandra said. "I don't know where those kids are going to go to school. There isn't any room. We have a glut in already approved property in this county."

County planners estimate that there are 60,000 to 70,000 approved but unbuilt homes in St. Johns County.

Commissioner Mark Miner said there is "no legal reason not to vote for this project, though I don't want to."

Chairwoman Cyndi Stevenson made the motion to approve the application with two amendments, one requiring homeowners living in Anderson Greenbriar to be told it was once a bombing range and the other requiring the developer to achieve school concurrency.

The vote was 3-2, with Vice Chairman Ron Sanchez and Commissioner Ken Bryan dissenting.

At a glance

Name: Anderson Greenbriar

Developer: Anderson Columbia Inc.

Acres: 283

Proposed homes: 365

Location: Greenbriar Road

Voting to pass: Commissioners Stevenson, Mays, Miner

Voting to deny: Commissioners Sanchez, Bryan

Consultant: Bombing range safe

Between 1940 and 1960, more than 1,235 acres of Northwest St. Johns County was once part of the Switzerland Bomb Target site, used by the U.S. military to drop practice bombs.

A private consultant, Ordnance & Explosives Remediation Inc., surveyed the property and found "inert training ordnance items" everywhere they dug.

Most were 3-pound and 25-pound practice bombs and 2.25-inch and 2.75-inch practice aircraft rockets, many containing Mk-4 signal cartridges, similar to a blank 10-gauge shotgun shell.

Signal cartridges send up a puff of black smoke on the spot where a practice bomb hit the ground.

The practice aircraft rockets were "completely inert," the report said, containing only a plaster-filled warhead.

During the survey, 300,000 pounds of inert training ordnance was found, as was 500,000 pounds of scrap metal.

"No live or explosive-filled ordnance was found," the report said, nor were any pyrotechnical ordnance, bomb craters, case fragments or shrapnel-damaged trees located.

"The site is considered suitable for residential use," the report said.

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