Thursday, June 04, 2015

Twin victories: County P&Z wisely rejects sprawl at 206 & I-95 and another one by Stetson Kennedy's home near Switzerland -- Congratulations to Jane West and her clients on two victories

The mother of "Irish twins," environmental and land use planning lawyer Jane West won twin P&Z victories June 3:

Victory I:

St. Johns County planning board votes against major development at SR 206 — again
Posted: June 4, 2015 - 11:26pm
A proposed large development at State Road 206 and Interstate 95 that was called sprawl and incompatible with the surrounding area in October by the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency came back Thursday with an altered plan.

It added homes, added commercial space and added the total number of acres used. And it received significantly more support the second time around, just not enough to recommend approval.

The PZA spent several hours discussing the King’s Grant PUD request before voting 4-3 to recommend denial to the St. Johns County Commission, which is expected to hear the proposal June 16.

“I have not heard enough evidence to change my vote,” PZA chair Dick Williams said. “For right now, I still see this as leapfrog or urban sprawl.”

Williams obviously voted against the proposal along with Brad Nelson, Mike Koppenhafer and Jeff Martin.

Under the PUD proposal, King’s Grant would have 999 residential units on the 772-acre parcel. At least 74 of the units — and as many as 450 — would be age-restricted (age 55 and older).

Also included in the PUD are plans for 130,000 square feet of commercial space, 200 hotel rooms, a 120-bed rehabilitation hospital, a 260-bed facility for assisted living/skilled nursing/memory care and 80,000 square feet of professional/medical office space.

It’s a change from last year when the owner was looking for 925 homes and 100,000 square feet of commercial space on 593 acres.

Back then, the board said the large development, which has no matching large residential areas anywhere near it, was not compatible with the little development that is there. That consists mainly of the Pilot Flying J truckstop.

And there was also the issue of lack of fire service for the development. The developer has offered to provide land and prepay the impact fees (about $700,000) for a station, but that doesn’t mean a station would be immediately built.

On Thursday, many board members found those issues to be less troublesome. Board member Archie Wainright and David Rice both mentioned the problem of not having a close fire station, but they joined Jon Woodard in voting for approval.

“I don’t see this as urban sprawl,” Rice said. “I believe that this is the project that will help us develop that (area).”

Added Wainright: “It’s not sprawl, but it is large and it is fast.”

Tom Ingram of Akerman LLP represented the developer. He said the new plan reflects the changes he thought the PZA members we looking for.

“We listened and we went back to do our homework on this,” he said. “We think it’s a good fit for the area.”

He said the county’s comprehensive plan indicates the county’s desire for mixed-use development in the nodes around the I-95 interchanges. The S.R. 206 interchange is still mostly undeveloped.

Ingram argued that this project would get that process rolling with vital needs like medical services to go along with the residential units, which would cost about $325,000, he said.

Nelson and others disagreed that King’s Grant was needed now. Nelson said the county might want to take the opportunity to form a more specific plan for the area while it’s still a clean slate.

“It is going to be another gateway into our county,” he said. “We only get one chance to do it right. This area is far from anything else.

“This is still a very, very rural, primarily silviculture. I’m having a hard time seeing this as compatible with what’s out there (now).”

There were 14 people who spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, with 11 clearly against the approval of the PUD and one clearly in favor.

Most of the concerns had to do with increased traffic and strain on services. Others were concerned about the environmental aspects.

There was no definitive opinion given by growth management staff on environmental concerns, but the staff report did say a hydrological study showed the area has “low aquifer recharge.” So its development should not pose significant runoff issues with proper engineering.

Not all members of the public agreed with that, including Matanzas Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon.

“This development will impact the health of Pellicer Creek,” he said. “These 999 homes are going to add to the runoff.”

As for traffic, the PZA board was informed that the development would eventually “max out” S.R. 206 around I-95.

Attorney Jane West made the main presentation for the opposition. She said there was no reason for a board that unanimously rejected the King’s Grant PUD last time to now approve it.

“Has it changed that significantly since you heard it last to change your recommendation?” West asked. “It’s more residential (development) in the middle of nowhere. This is the first time I’ve seen a development shot down for urban sprawl ... only to come back with more residential units.”

■ The PZA also heard another issue with significant public interest: The River Crest PUD. The 115-home development off Roberts Road has drawn considerable opposition from members of the Fatio Grant Community. Many residents of that community turned out for Thursday’s meeting which ran too late for full coverage in today’s newspaper. More details will follow in Saturday’s paper.

Victory II:

St. Johns County planning board votes against 115-unit Switzerland development
Posted: June 5, 2015 - 11:52pm


The St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency voted 4-3 against a proposal to turn nearly 70 acres into a planned unit development.

The River Crest PUD request was for a 115-home development off Roberts Road, in the northwestern corner of the county, which has drawn considerable opposition from members of the nearby Fatio Grant Community Alliance.

“This needs to have more of a rural setting to it,” PZA chair Dick Williams said, adding he would not support the Switzerland development.

Moments later on Thursday night, board member Archie Wainright put forward a motion to deny the proposal.

“This is not an emotional versus intellectual decision for me,” he said. “It’s clearly both.”

Voting in favor of the development were members Mike Koppenhafer, David Rice and Jon Woodard. Members Jeff Martin and Brad Nelson joined Williams and Wainright in voting against it.

The result was a round of applause and whistles from residents.

The PZA’s recommendation will go before the St. Johns County commissioners, who will have the final say.

Give or take

The group behind the River Crest development said it made many concessions in its plan based on feedback from residents.

These concessions included increased buffers, a wildlife crossing and improvements to Roberts Road, where the development’s entrance would be located.

Also considered were plans for the developer to rebuild the section of roadway between Cunningham Creek Elementary and Tiger Creek Parkway to the north. Additionally, turning lanes into the school would have been extended to accommodate extra traffic.

However, dozens of Switzerland area residents gave hours of testimony against the plan, saying it would change their way of life.

Concerns ranged from more traffic and more crowded schools to drainage issues and possible runoff into nearby Mill Creek.

According to the alliance, Mill Creek forms Lake Beluthahatchee at its western end and serves as an active corridor to deer, turkeys, foxes and other wildlife.

Wrong place, time

Dennis Syrmis, president of the Fatio Grant Community Alliance, said its goal is to protect property rights and the interests of its nearly 200 members.

The developer’s team argued its proposal was within the law and met requirements for compliance, but that didn’t appear to be the neighbors’ concern.

Attorney Jane West, a representative for the opposition, said the issue from the beginning was density.

“Doubling the density in an open rural (area) is wholly incompatible with your Comprehensive Plan,” she told board members.

Resulting inconsistencies and incompatibilities with the surrounding areas also contributed to much of the residents’ resistance.

“The bottom line really is we do meet the standards for compatibility,” said Karen Taylor, a former St. Johns County planner, on behalf of the developer’s team.

She said River Crest would add an estimated 35.5 elementary, 8.9 middle and 24.5 high school students.

Taylor said the applicant would have paid more than $2 million ($18,000 per home) for school seats and $1 million ($9,000 per home) for traffic through proportionate fair share mitigation.

However, West said using a 2.3 multiplier per home is the standard. She added the real impact of 115 new homes would result in 264 residents, including 80 students and increased usage of natural resources.

“I’m still struggling with whether or not the density is appropriate given the neighborhood (River Creek) abuts,” Martin had said minutes before the vote.

The PZA’s denial of the River Creek proposal followed its vote against the 999-unit King’s Grant PUD off State Road 206.

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