Thursday, July 19, 2018

Riverkeeper: Fish Island would change rare land for ‘McMansions’ (SAR)

Let's buy this historic, environmentally sensitive land using Florida Forever funds and preserve and protect it forever. This historic viewshed and wildlife habitat for bald eagles must be preserved and protected as a park, eventually part of the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.

Riverkeeper: Fish Island would change rare land for ‘McMansions’

By Sheldon Gardner
Posted Jul 14, 2018 at 9:07 PM
Updated Jul 14, 2018 at 9:07 PM
St. Augustine Record

Fish Island isn’t a typical waterfront development, according to Matanzas Riverkeeper Jen Lomberk.

For Lomberk, it represents an attempt to put single-family residences on what she believes is one of the last remaining pieces of large undeveloped land in St. Augustine.

D.R. Horton wants to rezone 72 acres, including 24 acres of wetlands, southeast of the State Road 312 Bridge, into the Fish Island Planned Unit Development. The plans call for adding fill to raise the development to reduce flooding concerns and cutting much of the trees on uplands to build up to 170 homes in the $300,000-$400,000 price range.

“The first thing people are going to see (when they drive over the bridge) are these mini McMansions on an island instead of this gorgeous land,” Lomberk said.

Lomberk and several others have asked city officials to change or deny the development plans. Their concerns include tree cutting, traffic and wildlife.

The Planning and Zoning Board listened. The board asked developers to come back Aug. 7 with a host of information to answer their questions and concerns, including how the development actually benefits the public.

The developer listed a series of what they see as benefits, such as preserving historical artifacts on the site and marshland and wetlands.

Still, board member Sue Agresta said it seemed there was no public benefit.

“You’re proposing to destroy one of the last pristine viewsheds in the city,” Agresta said.

Ellen Avery-Smith, attorney for the developer, said the team is updating its plans based on comments from the board and the public.

“This is a work in progress,” she said.

Runoff, trees and eagles

Lomberk said one of her concerns about the project is runoff.

Lomberk said she believes some rainwater runoff will flow directly into the river, which would cause chemicals to flow into the Matanzas River. The river is well flushed because of two inlets, but it’s still a concern, she said. An overabundance of certain nutrients can cause algae blooms, she said.

“The grass isn’t able to absorb all the nutrients. ... That will inevitably make it into the waterway,” she said.

Fish Island engineering consultant Matt Lahti said runoff will go into a stormwater treatment system and be discharged into the Matanzas River as permitted by the St. Johns River Water Management District and other regulations. He said he there won’t be any direct runoff into the Matanzas River.

Still, keeping trees to mitigate runoff would ease Lomberk’s concerns.

D.R. Horton plans to remove about 37 acres of trees in uplands because of plans to add fill, which would kill trees in those areas anyway. New trees will be planted, according to the developer. In addition to preserving most of the wetlands, the developer says it plans to preserve about 8 acres of trees within buffers and parks aside from what’s on the wetlands.

The developer’s team didn’t catalogue every tree on the site. Instead, they surveyed a few test plots, said project landscape architect Brett Godard. The variety of trees they found include cedar, cherry, elm, hickory, laurel oak, live oak, palm, pine and willow, he said.

The planning board asked for a list of historic trees that could be saved.

Some people who have pushed back against plans to develop the property have zeroed in on a tiny feature of the landscape: a bald eagle’s nest.

Rhonda Lovett, a St. Johns County resident and volunteer eagle watcher for Audubon, said it was March when she saw a couple of bald eagles near the nest, but no eaglets. She showed city officials the photos as evidence the nest is active. Application materials for the development listed it as inactive.

“The eagles can’t speak,” she said. “I had pictures. I saw them.”

St. Johns County monitors eagle’s nests during nesting season, which is Oct. 1 to May 15, according to county spokeswoman Sarah Hand. The nest on that site was active during the most recent season.

Fish Island environmental consultant Ryan Carter said during his visits to the site in October and April, he saw first no eagles and then an eagle near the nest tree but no nesting activity. He also said the most recent Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission information lists the nest as inactive — but that’s from the 2017 season.

The classification of inactive or active won’t change what the developer is seeking: permission from regulating authorities to have a 100-foot no-development zone around the nest instead of the required 330-foot no development zone.

Traffic, other concerns

Beyond the wildlife and land, some also fear dealing with State Road 312 traffic if Fish Island is added.

“During peak periods of time, the traffic’s bumper to bumper,” Joe Blewett told city officials.

Fish Island would add 126 vehicle trips to the road during the busiest morning time and about 169 vehicle trips during the busiest evening times, according to a traffic study.

The road already sees about 39,000 trips per day in that area on average, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. The development on the north side of the road, Antigua, is also coming online. The city didn’t require a traffic study for that development because it’s not a PUD, according to Planning and Building Department Director David Birchim.

Lomberk said the land would be an ideal place for a park. But, with rights on the land in place to develop homes even without a PUD, she’s said she’s not sure how feasible that is.

Lomberk told planning board members said there are ways to build with less of an impact on the land, such as stilt houses and stem wall construction, and living shorelines instead of bulkheads.

“I urge you to take into account the environmental sensitivity of this project,” she said.


Jack Tigman
updated 20 hours ago
Slavin has the right idea. The Bert Harris Act means that municipalities can (essentially) never say "no" to development for conservation reasons. No amount of whining or environmental pretexts changes this. The law speaks, and the law that governs this is the Harris Act. So, either buy the land with Florida Forever funds (and if DR Horton already owns it, that's going to be a mighty expensive purchase at this point...) or accept that it will be used in it's highest available commercial use. Or amend the Harris Act. Those are our choices. Saying "no" because "development sucks" only means that we get sued and lose, 100% of the time, and pay out a large settlement and/or attorney's fees. . « less

Edward Adelbert Slavin

Reply to @Jack Tigman: Thank you.
1. But I don't think Bert Harris, Jr. Private Property Protection Act has ever been interpreted to create an entitlement to a PUD. Former PZB member Cathy Brown calls PUDs "a sneaky way of getting around zoning."
2. Based on NO public benefit and materially false and misleading, perjured testimony (that the active bald eagle nest is "abandoned") our PZB can reject the Fish Island PUD and our City Commission can reject it, with confidence they will be upheld on appeal.
3. Let DONALD R. HORTON, the dodgy, greedy publicly-traded, SEC-regulated developer, sue. That confers rights on us: our City and environmentalists will obtain depositions and discovery documents on the etiology of this rank obscenity, starting with City annexation at the behest of landowner Pierre Thompson and conflicted lawyers Geoffrey Dobson and Ronald Wayne Brown. The law firm of Dobson & Brown was long the City Attorney while also representing private clients like Thompson. After Jim Wilson quit over illegal dumping issues, Ronald Wayne Brown became the City Attorney. Their loyalty to and work for Pierre Thompson goes back some 35 years. « less
4. Meanwhile, will D.R. Horton stock prices suffer a huge PR hit -- a greedy corporation endangering our national symbol and the historic viewshed of Our Nation's Oldest City, for what exactly? How will that look in The Wall Street Journal, Donald Horton?
5. This epic fight is reminiscent of the overbearing shopping developer that tried to build on Stuart's Hill -- 542 acres near the Second Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) Civil War battlefield in Virginia, a top of thousands of Confederate soldier's bones. Led by Arkansas Democratic Senator Dale Bumpers, Congress rightly voted to exercise eminent domain and buy the property. Likewise, Jesse Fish's bones, citrus plantation, dockage, archaeology and unspoiled view shed bald eagle habitat must be preserved and protected forever.
6. That is our solution here -- let's negotiate a price or else take D.R. Horton and the landowner to court for a jury trial, and take Fish Island, with just compensation.
7. Citizens: organize and encourage City to get Florida Forever funds to preserve this land.
8. We, the People, have ZERO tolerance for any more flummery, dupery, nincompoopery, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance by devious developers and local governments.
9. On July 6, 2018, I reported D.R. Horton to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over its perjured testimony on bald eagle nest on July 3, 2018 before PZB by D.R. Horton's "expert" witness Ryan Carter. 

Edward Adelbert Slavin

Let's buy Fish Island using Florida Forever funds, folks. Iconic viewshed must be preserved and protected for future generations.

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