Friday, August 05, 2016

Metastatic growth in county top election issue

Growth is major issue in St. Johns races
Posted: August 5, 2016 - 5:48am

In St. Johns County, nearly every candidate running for a county commission seat cites rampant development as the leading issue heading into the Aug. 30 primary elections.

At least one of those three races will be decided at the end of the month. That race for District 1 is the only one open to both Republican and Democratic voters.

With growth, the county has found, comes a surge of budget challenges — such as a 10-year backlog of countywide infrastructure projects. Money to meet those needs, which are both essential and desired, just isn’t available.

Some say this reflects signs of a county growing at a pace that is too much, too fast, while others cite growth and traffic and full schools as evidence of a healthy economy.

Candidates running for open spots in District 1, District 3 and District 5, however, all agree the key to solving St. Johns County’s problem is managed development. How they plan to obtain a managed playing field appears to vary slightly.

In District 1, which encompasses much of the rapidly growing northwest part of the county, incumbent James “Jimmy” Johns vies to keep his seat against challenger Al Abbatiello.

Abbatiello, 82, has spearheaded the volunteer organization, William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway Management Group, for the last 10 years.

“The character of St. Johns County is scenic, historic. We have a lot of archaeological venues here,” Abbatiello said. “As time goes on, some of these places are starting to disappear. We need to try to preserve those. While you can’t stop development, you can do it a lot smarter.”

Enter the county’s comprehensive land use plan.

According to Abbatiello, part of the solution could involve a stricter interpretation of where and how growth should occur. Sometimes counties compromise the plan by allowing developers to build where they shouldn’t, he said. It’s time to stop that practice.

While numerous attempts to reach Johns were not successful, he has raised a war chest of campaign funds — the majority of his $78,900 comes from Jacksonville — and Ponte Vedra-based developers, real estate firms, attorneys and consultants, according to financial reports posted on the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections website.

Bill McClure, representative for District 3, is running in the District 4 congressional race. Republicans Jerry Cameron and Paul Waldron, as well as write-in candidate Sheamus McNeeley, hope to take his place.

Cameron, who has so far raised the most of all the county commission candidates at $132,625, said the next group of commissioners must meet challenges without impacting the community.

To him, responsible development means two things: development that doesn’t come on the backs of the existing tax base and doesn’t diminish the quality of life and enjoyment of those residents.

This requires adjusting the service levels provided by the county or adjusting the revenue collected for those services, he added. A number of options exist, such as gas taxes and sales taxes, but he wants to see efficiency in the way St. Johns County spends its tax dollars first.

Waldron wants to bring jobs into the county.

As a resident in St. Johns, he said he can see the county has fallen way behind on the infrastructure needs. While he plans to put the money where it is needed the most — parks, drainage, roads — Waldron realized it wouldn’t be enough. The current backlog of needed improvements sits somewhere around $270 million.

“Managed growth is a good thing, but we are so far behind that we can’t keep up,” he said. “If you don’t have jobs and businesses, you become a bedroom community.”

Right now, that’s a major concern in St. Johns where many move to take advantage of the top-notch schools but then drive to Duval County for work.

Commissioner Rachael Bennett withdrew from the race for her District 5 seat, which stretches from much of the St. Augustine area up to International Golf Parkway. Dottie Acosta and Henry Dean hope to fill the void. Write-in candidate Alfred Pittman will also vie for the seat in the Nov. 8 general election.

Acosta, who has spent 28 years in county government, is afraid for her community. “Our green spaces are being clear cut. What’s going to happen to our county?” she said. “If I wanted to live in Miami, I would move down south. I don’t want our home to look like that.”

She has seen too many developments sprout up in St. Johns County without providing enough resources to help maintain the neighborhoods in years to come. Now, she wants to see them held accountable.

Her opponent, Dean, who worked as the executive director of the St. Johns Water Management District, fears for a similar issue. In his former role, he worked to ensure developments didn’t encroach on natural resources within his territory.

He knows there are no simple answers.

However, two huge issues loom in front of city commissioners, he said, and those are adequate infrastructure that follows the comp plan and doesn’t impact the wetlands and waterways that make St. Johns such a wonderful place to live.

Those infrastructure improvements must be tackled on a case-by-case basis, he said. “It’s going to take some serious work and elbow grease to see how we can move forward.”

Hunter Conrad, who is the incumbent, and George Lareau are competing to take the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. The winner will face write-in candidate Patrick Mency.

A final contested county-wide election includes the School Board District 2, where incumbent Tommy Allen is vying for his seat against challenger John Reardon.

Upcoming municipal races are the race for city of St. Augustine Council Seat 1 between incumbent Roxanne Horvath and her challengers Sandra Flowers, Rhey Palmer and Ronald Stafford; city of St. Augustine Seat 2, between incumbent Leanna Freeman and Susan Rathbone; city of St. Augustine mayor, between incumbent Nancy Shaver and Kris Phillips; as well as the city of St. Augustine Beach group 1 and group 2. In group 1, incumbent Andrea Samuels is facing off against Maggie Kostka. In group 2, Rosetta Bailey will be challenging incumbent Rich O’Brien.

Thomas Francis Reynolds 08/05/16 - 08:11 am 10My predictions
Congress District 4........... Bill McClure

County Commission seats
District 1 ............Jimmy Johns
District 3 ............Jerry Cameron
District 5 ............Henry Dean

Clerk of Courts.......... George Lareau

School Board............ Tommy Allen

Old City
Mayor ................Nancy Shaver (Landslide)
Seat 1 ............... (to close to predict)
Seat 2 ............... Susan Rathbone (Landslide)

Beach City
Group 1................ Maggie Kostka
Group 2................ Rose Bailey

ANTHONYSER 08/05/16 - 09:37 am 01Fees
Increase impact fees and sell the county golf course and other
Property the county does not need

mach12.1e 08/05/16 - 11:21 am 30Obvious things that developers don't want you to know.
You can control building by proposing and IMPLEMENTING a building moratorium, until such time as infrastructure improvements are in place and ready. If that time is NEVER, so much the better for us.

Development has NEVER paid for itself. According to the county budget office it cost more in services than the county collects for every home built. That means the more growth, the worst the situation gets.

Finally, the comprehensive future land use map isn't fit to be used as toilet paper, if it can be changed for every out of town developer that shows up here with a bag full of money. Stick to the plan and make it illegal to have development interests contribute to the body that approves their livelihood.

sponger2 08/05/16 - 10:37 am 30I'd like to add to mach's comment.
If you go to the Vicky Oats county website, you can see where all the campaign contributions come from. If you see they come from Jacksonville developers, contractors, real estate firms/ attorneys, or insurances groups...these are the folks you DON"T vote for. I might add that Cameron currently tops this esteemed list as recipient of the most "donations".

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