Friday, December 18, 2015

Record editorial condemns greedy developers: "It's not St. Johns County's job to maximize private profit"

It's right.

Editorial: It's not St. Johns County's job to maximize private profit

Posted: December 17, 2015 - 11:17pm | Updated: December 18, 2015 - 12:08am

It is unclear what’s gotten into our St. Johns County Commissioners of late. But if it’s truly a sign of the times, it’s more a billboard for developers reading “We have rules.”

Tuesday commissioners turned down a Palm Valley development request for an independent living facility near Landrum Middle School.

Does the county need facilities such as these? Probably so. And, in truth, it’s tough to turn down a request for an old folks home.

But turn it down they did.

This particular development was billed as a resort lifestyles community. We’d hope all our seniors had access to a resort-type lifestyle when the time came.

But this development is running into the same wall that two others, recently nixed by the county board, hit. It doesn’t seek to build within existing zoning and land use rules and parameters.

Among requests by the developer was to put 124 units plus recreation areas and a cafeteria on eight acres.

Specifically, its plan was to build to a height of 48 feet — where 35 feet is the maximum allowed. Its plans also showed the length of a single building at over 1,100 feet — where the maximum allowable stretch of a building is 120 feet. Its lot coverage plan was for 19,770 square feet per acre — where 10,000 is the maximum allowed.

Simply said, it wants the moon.

This is not unlike King’s Grant, which is taking St. Johns County to court for denial of its development — as planned. Kings Grant was sufficiently cocky that, after being denied by the Planning and Zoning Agency, it came back to the county commission with new plans to greatly increase its density and impact. Basically, “We’re too big? Let’s get bigger.”

What’s particularly inspiring about the recent county denials is that it seems as if, for the first time, commissioners get it — a zoning or land use exemption is nothing more than a request for more by the developer who bought the property eyes wide open, knowing exactly what he had and precisely what he could squeeze out of the deal under existing law when he bought the land.

Developers have a legal right to seek exceptions. But we, as a county, have no duty or responsibility whatever to grant them. In short, it’s not St. Johns County’s job to maximize the profit potential of private development.

Certainly cooperating with development, especially commercial, is sometimes in the interest of the residents/taxpayers. If it’s a right place at a good time, we should work with applicants.

But appeasement is not in the moral contract county commissioners sign with the residents who elected them. (Could it be that the responsibility in the past has been to the developers who elected them?)

Commissioners’ responsibility, especially with so much development already banked in existing permits, is to tap the brakes and look closely at the effects new growth will have on neighborhoods — as well as the backlog of infrastructure development and maintenance we already face — without the 70,000 permitted homes going up.

The problem is not new, but the commissioners’ apparent swing to face the music is. So is their realization that they are the players holding the aces at the poker table of growth, while developers are forced to draw to the inside straight of land use rules that were put there for a reason. That wasn’t to make our county conform to development. It’s the other way around.

martystaug 12/18/15 - 07:38 am 00Exception to the Exception
Just because previous developers were granted the requested zoning exceptions to allow vast new building projects, does not necessitate that every request be granted. A precedent favorable zoning decision does not dictate acceptance of all future similar requests. Apparently Kings Grant thinks it does and is filing suit to try to force a positive decision. I say thank you to our county commission for growing a spine and listening to the citizens of this county who have tried to highlight the importance of not just costs, but impact to quality of life with every new mega-development. These developments don't just impact the local neighbors, but also the increased traffic and congestion for downtown, beaches and resources all over the county. When investors purchase large tracts of undeveloped land, they certainly have the right to enjoy that land given the current zoning rules. So raise some goats or grow some vegetables on your land. Enjoy!

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