Wednesday, October 20, 2021

St. Johns County's Peculiar Ways and Means of Fixing Zoning Cases -- SilverLeaf's request for 5,600 additional homes in St. Johns County development advances to state. Hutson Companies development advances to next step in review

What does County Commission's 4-0 vote on some 5600 new homes for State Senator TRAVIS HUTSON's family business on October 19, 2021 tell us about environmental and govenrmental ethis in St. John County?  

Where else in the world do shallowness, sophistry and solecism form the basis of so many government decisions?  

You tell me.

Faster than a speeding dump truck, St. Johns County is losing its character, which is being destroyed by secretive developers, whose Limited Liability Company owners and investors are not disclosed.  Miami Herald reports that money-laundering is more pronounced In real estate than in any other business. 

Here in St. Johns County, elected officials never respond to my questions by requesting that developers disclose their beneficial owners and investors.  Commissioners have refused to adopt a lobbying disclosure ordinance.  There is no local ethics commission, as elsewhere in Florida.  There is no County Charter. There is no independent Inspector General, as in Charter Counties. 

Every single elected county-wide official in partisan races is a Republican. They think in lockstep and suppress citizen concerns, eliminating non-agenda public comment at the beginning of County Commission meetings, relegating citizen concerns about flooding, ethics and other problems to the very end of meetings.

Commissioners have used a flawed process to hire professionals, as in the case of the next County Attorney, David Michael MIgut, to be hired at a special meeting on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. 

In rapidly asphalt-ifying St. Johns County, Florida,  Republican State Senator Travis Hutson's company just won a big fat payback from St. Johns County Commission -- premature and unjustified transmittal to Tallahassee of a proposed massive addition. to its Silver Leaf development. 

When presumably rubber-stamped by Tallahassee cat's paws, it will come back for a further vote here. 

Thanks to Messrs. Joe McAnarney, Al Abbattiello and other oponents for their cogent arguments. But their rather gentle criticisms weren't enough to persuade even one of our corpulent St. Johns County Commissionres to say, "Whoa!" 

So sleazy is the Board of County Commissioners process that outgoing County Attorney PATRICK FRANCIS McCORMACK, a former Navy Captain, said a 3-3 tie vote in the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency was a "technical denial."  


Without any explanation as to the etiology of their Godawful, inarticulate argot,  they've parroted the words of the late corrupt ROGERS TOWERS lawyer, unethical fired partner GEORGE MORRIS MCCLURE, a glib mouthpiece who had an answer for everything.  Local government officials here have adopted this solecism, used only when developers lose a tie vote in a local planning and zoning board. (FBI apparently flipped McCLURE, who recorded conversations with County Commission Chairman Thomas G. Manuel, who went to federal prison for bribery.)


This reminds me of the movie "Z," where fascist bad guys, from thugs to colonels and generals, use the exact same inculpatory phrase, "as lithe and fierce as a tiger," indicating to the prosecutor and the audience that they're all in on the assassination of a dovish Greek politician. 

The term "technical denial" is not found in Florida zoning law. It exists in Social Security Disability law, health care law, but I can't fined it used anywhere in published legal literature in reference to a tie vote in partliamaentry procedure. In reality, a tie vote under Robert's Rules of Order means that the motion fails. So it would be more accurate for McCORMACK to say that the motion to recommend approval of the project failed -- nothing "technical" about it. 

In the wake of GEORGE McCLURE, I've heard St. Johns County government officials use the term "technical denial before -- St. Augustine City Attorney ISABELLE CHRISTINE LOPEZ, St. Augustine Planning and Zoning Director DAVID DOUGLAS BIRCHIM, and his fired predecessor, MARK ALAN KNIGHT. 

Whenever they want to put their thumbs on the scales of justice, staff signals Dull Republican Commissioners with misleading nomenclature, like "technical denial," rather like putting lipstick on a corpse. In this case, the corpses will be endangered wildlife, including gopher tortoises, without any environmental impact discussion. 

Enough flummery, dupery and nincompoopery from unjust stewards in St. Johns County.

It's up to us. 

From St. Augustine Record, repeating the spin about "technical denial":   

SilverLeaf's request for 5,600 additional homes in St. Johns County development advances to state

Hutson Companies development advances to next step in review

Sheldon Gardner
St. Augustine Record

A major addition to SilverLeaf, one of St. Johns County's largest developments, is headed for state review. 

St. Johns County commissioners voted 4-0 to forward to state agencies the request, which would add 5,600 homes to the development. The application will return to the commission with comments for a final review and vote. 

The item drew out common concerns amid population growth and rapid development: How the project will affect the area's character, including impacts to traffic. But developers and supporters described the existing development as a benefit the county and supported the new request.

2020 census:St. Johns County's population increased by over 43% in 10 years

RYour money:More than $3.8 million in COVID relief went to St. Augustine-based food businesses

A construction crew works on a roof of a building in the SilverLeaf development, north of St. Augustine, on Aug. 20, 2020. [PETER WILLOTT/THE RECORD]

The developer wants to change the land use of about 2,394 acres that would be added to the existing land set aside for SilverLeaf, which is in northwest St. Johns County. The additional land would bring in up to 5,600 more dwelling units to the development and another 250,000 square feet office space, according to the county.

The specific request is to amend the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map from Rural/Silviculture (R/S) and Agricultural Intensive (A-I) to Residential A, Residential C and Community Commercial (CC) for the land, which is south of the planned First Coast Expressway.

The county Planning and Zoning Agency voted 3-3 whether to recommend forwarding the request, which is a technical denial.

"The PZA discussed the adversely impacted roadways and how those would be mitigated, the cost of improving those roadways, the higher density being proposed for the area adjacent to Trout Creek, Hardwood Landing and Collier Roads," according to the county planning division's report. "The agency also discussed the amount of currently entitled residential dwelling units, and the timing of these additional dwelling units.

"Further, the agency discussed the long-range impacts to water supply, the natural environment, and impact to food supply by the removal of agricultural land and natural areas."

SilverLeaf is a master-planned community started by The Hutson Companies. It stretches from near County Road 210 all the way to State Road 16 and is approved for 10,700 homes.

The Hutson Companies is a family development firm run by Florida Sen. Travis Hutson's father, David Hutson. Travis Hutson works for the firm by leading "the companies' charitable and civic activities," according to the business website. 

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The First Coast Expressway and Interstate 95 are planned to connect through SilverLeaf. The expressway will include a new four-lane bridge over the St. Johns River just south of the current Shands Bridge, and a new four-lane road connection "from east of County Road 16A spur to I-95 in St. Johns County," according to the Florida Department of Transportation. 

Bridge construction is expected to begin in 2022 and end in 2029. The new road project is expected to begin in summer 2023 and end in 2030. 

If SilverLeaf is modified, including through a separate Planned Unit Development change and a Development of Regional Impact change, the development will include up to 9,800 single-family units; 4,500 multi-family units; 2,000 age-restricted units; 2 million square feet of retail; 900,000 square feet of office space; 330,000 square feet of industrial space; 300,000 square feet of hospital space.

The development is scheduled to be completed in 2047. 

People opposed to the project expressed concerns such as adding more traffic to the area and changing the land's rural character.

Al Abbatiello, chairman of the William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway Management Group, said he and others in the group are opposed to the addition. He said the expansion and the added traffic would be "extremely intense for this particular area."

But people spoke in support of the project in part for its benefits.  

According to a presentation by developer attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, benefits of the request include:

Spending more than $40 million for about 6.2 miles of new roads. And construction of multi-use paths along internal collector roads. The project will also bring a multi-use path to Trout Creek Park.

More non-residential building space near the First Coast Expressway, which will bring in more jobs. 

"Equestrian and low-density residential use to preserve rural scenic view along the Bartram Scenic Highway." 

Commissioners also pointed to benefits that have come with the existing SilverLeaf development. Developers provide benefits to mitigate for impacts to things such as roads and schools. 

Among other things, the project provided for 200 lots to be donated in Armstrong for affordable housing; built St. Johns Parkway and SilverLeaf Parkway; dedicated a 40-acre park site; and dedicated three school sites. 

Commissioner Jeb Smith said he thinks the developer has been extremely considerate of residents in its concessions, including not allowing development in about 700 acres of land proposed to be added until the First Coast Expressway is open to traffic or until Jan. 1, 2030, whichever happens first.

1 comment:

Beth Tate said...

I was one of those speaking against the transmittal yesterday. What a fascinating process - essentially zero discussion on the merits. Clearly enough money had been committed to roads to satisfy any concerns that may exist.