Friday, July 22, 2016

Preserving and protecting St. Augustine's coastline

Once again, We, the People were heard and heeded at County Commission July 19th on protecting our fragile coast. Good Record editorial:
Former EPA Region IV Regional Administrator John Henry Hankinson, Jr. ran EPA programs for seven states for eight years with 1200 employees -- he compared the spot in question as equal to many national parks. It's time to adopt the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore Act,

Editorial: Summer Haven voter much bigger that it seems
Posted: July 22, 2016 - 12:11am

One of the prettier drives in the county is the ride down State Road A1A South from, say, Crescent Beach, across the frothy Matanzas Inlet and down to the town of Marineland.

Nearing the St. Johns-Flagler County line you’re driving on a tendril of coastal terra firma.

To the east, only a few hundred feet of indigenous “red shell” coquina beach separate the two-lane road from the surf. To the west, you could just about spit and hit the Intracoastal Waterway.

Tuesday, a zoning variance on that stretch of highway was turned back by three St. Johns County Commissioners. It was a tiny sliver of land. The request was almost negligible compared to the zoning patronage development seems to expect from our county leaders as de rigueur.

It was a tiny battle won in a war of gifted growth. But on the heels of the county’s rejection of the nearly carte-blanche expectations of the King’s Grant development, perhaps it is a sign.

The issue surrounded a small piece of property in that sensitive crease of land between A1A and the river — about eight-tenths of an acre. It is — oddly — zoned for a low-intensity commercial use.

The applicant wanted it rezoned to residential which, on its face, seems a downgrade. But that was just the start. Reduced setbacks from the road and the river were part of the ask, because the pesky lot just wouldn’t fit the house plans.

If you know the area, you understand how flood-prone it is. The old Highway A1A just to the north was destroyed by storms years ago. Residents there have water delivered to their homes by truck because utility service went away with the road.

A brand new inlet opened itself up and closed itself down over the period of a few years just up the road. And there is neither water nor sewer service available to the applicant’s piece of property. Neither is it eligible for federal flood insurance.

Part of the applicant’s plan was to sink a septic tank in the backyard in the high-hazard area directly adjacent the Matanzas Estuary — which is so pristine in terms of water quality that it remains only one of two or three shellfish harvesting zones in Northeast Florida.

The applicant asked for the residential rezoning because the hurdle was lower. The exceptions and exemptions he would have to procure from the county for any type of small commercial enterprise would have been much more extensive — and he knew it.

After 90 minutes of discussion, commissioners voted 3-2 to deny the application — with commissioners Bill McClure, Rachael Bennett and JayMorris turning it back. It was who put the issue into corrective perspective. He asked the applicant’s attorney if the developer had purchased the land under the commercial zoning designation, and had understood its parameters.

Following what might be described as circuitous legal exposition, the short answer was clearly “Yes.”

The applicant won’t appeal. Developers understand that the easier remedy for this type of denial may be no more than four months away, when the makeup of the county commission changes in the November elections.

But the county vote that barely made the newspaper, on a “development” the size of a small Starbucks made a big statement.

We can’t stop development on highly sensitive coastal barriers under legal and existing zoning codes — written back when “environmental science” was an oxymoron.

But we can stop encouraging it by allowing owners to rewrite land use laws and regulations to fit their site plans, architectural renderings and corporate revenue expectations.

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