1. Another 3-2 vote. Close to denial. Project might still be denied when it comes back from Tallahassee review.
2. In this legislative zoning hearing, there was NO disclosure of any of Commissioners' ex parte contacts with developer, property owners and ROGERS TOWERS law firm. Wonder why?
3. NO disclosures identifying all of the actual investors in this project. Wonder why?
4. NONE of the witnesses were sworn in -- wonder why?
5. NO process exists for public cross-examination of putative "expert" witnesses. Wigmore wrote that cross examination is "the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth." Our Supreme Court has held that "in the Anglo American legal system cross examination is the principal means of undermining the credibility of a witness whose testimony is false or inaccurate."
6. In developer-dominated St. Johns County, cross-examination by citizens of developers does NOT exist in any local governments. Our procedures are laughable whenever ROGERS TOWERS and Commissioners' campaign contributors seek to amend Comprehensive Plans. Wonder why?
7. Lax followup, false sense of urgency, and a rush to judgment, February 6 despite Commissioner and public questions. Wonder why?
8. Item should have been tabled. Commissioners must not act like they were short order cooks in the Cafe ROBERS TOWERS.
9. Developers long hand-picked Commissioners. Lesson: we need some more courageous County Commissioners, data-based decisions, and concern for our environment and our quality of life.
10. That's why I support Catherine Hawkinson Gueverra, Democrat, for Commission seat 4, being vacated by irascible JAY MORRIS (R-RPM International). It's time for a change in the St. Johns County Taj Mahal (County Administration Building, 500 Sebastian View).
County Commission OKs next steps for 999-home project off S.R. 16
By Jake Martin
Posted at 2:01 AM
St. Augustine Record
St. Johns County commissioners by a 3-2 vote on Tuesday approved sending yet another large-scale residential development with commercial components in the northwest sector of the county to the state for review.
Grand Oaks calls for up to 999 residential units as well as 100,000 feet of commercial space and 50,000 feet of office space on a 524-acre parcel of land on the west side of S.R. 16 immediately north of Windward Ranch and situated southeast of Murabella.
Property owner Day Late Enterprises and developer Southern Development Partners are seeking a Comprehensive Plan amendment to change the Future Land Use Map designation from Rural/Silviculture to Residential-C. They are also proposing a rezoning from Open Rural to Planned Unit Development, the application for which would be heard concurrently with the proposed amendment at the final hearing for adoption.
Attorney Ellen Avery Smith said the developers are well aware of the struggles the community is having with growth and sympathetic to the needs of their neighbors.
“They’ve pulled their wallets out to come up with a project that pays for itself,” she told commissioners.
To sweeten the pot, developers are offering certain “public benefits,” including a 30-acre site they say is worth $3.3 million to the St. Johns County School District for a new middle school. Smith said this land would be donated without seeking credits for impact fees or proportionate fair share mitigation payments as has been common practice in the past.
She said developers are also willing to kick in $15 million, which is $5 million above their expected transportation concurrency obligation, toward improvements of affected segments of S.R. 16 and I-95. She said they would also donate right-of-way for the C.R. 2209 project.
Nearly 30 percent of the property has been set aside for open spaces, nature preserves and recreational areas. Additionally, specimen and large oak trees on the property will be preserved.
However, Commissioners Jeb Smith and Paul Waldron, who voted against transmitting the proposed project, called it too much too soon.
“I don’t believe this is a day late, but years early,” Smith said, adding he thought the project could be of “tremendous” value, eventually.
Waldron said the board owes current residents some assurance their quality of life will be maintained, adding the county needs some time to catch up with the existing demands of growth. He said the rate of development just as it stands can make you think you’re driving through a work zone every day of your life.
Ultimately, adoption seems to be contingent on the developers’ willingness to pay impact and proportionate share fees up front, or on a payment plan, rather than on the back end of build-out.
Commissioner Jimmy Johns, who eventually made the motion to approve transmitting the project to the state, said the county needs to change the way it collects payment for road and infrastructure improvement. He said development after development was approved in the past with the expectation certain improvements, or payments for improvements, would be made upon reaching certain thresholds of build-out, but that those triggers never quite seem to get pulled.
He said he wants “the whole enchilada” when it comes to development agreements, including plans and financial commitments to provide necessary upgrades to roads, utilities, emergency services, schools and public parks.
Fellow commissioners agreed.
Smith said she heard the commission “loud and clear” and that the developers are willing to work with staff on figuring out a payment plan and time line for improvement. She said the goal is to have a development agreement that includes the payment and public benefit components ready for review by the adoption hearing.
Commission Chair Henry Dean said he shared the thoughts and concerns of commissioners who ended up on both sides of the vote.
He said the “conundrum” the board seems to be dealing with is that road and infrastructure improvement has not kept pace with development that has occurred over the last 10 to 15 years, even though such improvements were required as part of those approvals. Still, he said, Grand Oaks is a “high-quality” project that is providing all the fees and mitigation payments required of it, and then some.
“I can’t think of any other thing this applicant can do to solve all the problems we face,” he said, adding there aren’t many developable parcels along that stretch of S.R. 16 to even consider.
However, he said there is a need for “physical concurrency” to occur, not just on paper.
Before the vote, Johns thanked the developers for recognizing the deficiencies and taking a crack at responding proactively. He suggested they also contact other private developers in the area to identify ways to circumvent some of the delays in providing already-promised improvements.