Friday, January 28, 2022

County Growth Management Workshop bares all on ill effects of too-rapid development in St. Johns County

Kudos to our St. Johns County Commissioners for spending four hours on January 25, 2022 listening to staff and then some 67 witnesses -- well-informed citizens who want government to work for us, not developers. 

Finally, a Growth Management Workshop at the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners.  

This comes after decades of one-party misrule, with its poorly-planned growth in ugly commercial and residential "developments" by foreign-funded shell companies, resulting in clogged roads, clearcutting of trees that are then burned, reckless feckless wildlife killing, wetland-filling and corruption of our political system with money from the likes of TRAVIS HUTSON. 

From 1998-2004, devious developers funded The Issues Group, which hand-picked all of our County Commissioners, run by the spouse of Sheriff NEIL PERRY, who directed all St. Johns County elected Democrats to change their party affiliation to Republican in 1989.  

All of them (or perhaps all but two of them) stood in line together at the Supervisor of Elections Office, then located in the Casa Monica Hotel -- the reason that I know that is my late friend Alice Everette Compton and her husband Robert were in line, registering to vote, and they were both witnesses to history.  (The other two changed party affiliations a year or two later, I later learned.)

On one day in 1989, Sheriff NEIL PERRY contrived a Republican takeover of our government, without the formality of an election.  

PERRY endorsed as his successor as Sheriff the oleaginous St. Augustine Police Chief  DAVID SHOAR, who legally changed his name from "HOAR" in 1994.

We need more elected Democrats in St. Johns County and a functioning two-party system. 

A political machine whose members change party affiliations hesto presto, instanter, on one lawman's ukase, is worthy of judicial and journalistic scrutiny -- like Mayor Richard J. Daley's Chicago writ small, with Southern accents and traditions.

We need a County Commission with seven members, five from single-member districts and two at large as we had until 1998, when Commissioners violated the 15th Amendment to redistrict, without a new Census, or study, or any reason other than wanting to keep an African-American Commissioner from bering elected.  That decision means all County Commissioners now run county-wide, allowing moneybags to elect our leaders by poisoning campaigns with dark money from developers.

With seven Commissioners, we can have a working committee system, and allow issues to be developed maturely.

We need a County Charter -- not the defective-by-design "starter charter" voters twice rejected in 2008.

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, "three generations of imbeciles is enough.

From St. Augustine Record:


From News4Jax:

St. Johns County commission chair considering referendum for sales tax increase-

Announcement came ahead of passionate public commentary during commission workshop addressing county’s rapid growth Ashley Harding, Reporter Joe McLean, Reporter Published: January 25, 2022, 1:22 PMUpdated: January 25, 2022, 6:26 PM ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners could consider a referendum for a sales tax increase from 6.5 cents to 7.5 cents, commission Chair Henry Dean said Tuesday. Dean made the announcement on “The Morning Show,” saying he had thought about that option but had not talked about it publicly or discussed it with the commission. “We can put on the ballot a referendum where the voters can vote up or down — yes or no — on an increase in the sales tax,” Dean said. The disclosure came ahead of a commission workshop Tuesday morning addressing the county’s rapid growth. St. Johns County resident Steve Lacy said that may be the only option. “Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but frankly I don’t know how we’re going to be able to afford it,” Lacy said. According to the 2020 census, between 2010 and 2020, St. Johns County grew by nearly 44%. It is one of the fastest-growing counties in the U.S. and the second-fastest growing county in Florida. As Tuesday’s presentation from the commission got underway, commissioners reiterated the growth in the number of people and approved developments. But one of the biggest takeaways from the presentation was that there are 13 deficient county roads in St. Johns County — which would cost the county around $155 million to fix. Dozens of St. Johns County residents spoke out during public commentary, saying there are a number of reasons why growth needs to slow down. “Perhaps the vast majority of St. Johns County residents don’t want to see a lot more development, especially at the rapidity we have seen,” said one woman, followed by a round of applause. Several people talked about the increase in traffic, there not being enough parks and also how they said the development has an impact on their quality of life. “I urge you to resolve existing infrastructure problems, especially the traffic, before they give further development,” said St. Johns County resident Doris Taylor. St. Johns County resident Mark Genezier said: “Traffic is everywhere. It’s really changed the complexion of our community.” Genezier and his wife protested outside the County Auditorium building. As veterinarians, they said the tree removal to make way for development is harming animals. We’ve seen the trajectory of what development does both to the local wildlife and we’ve seen what it does to the surroundings,” Genezier said. “If you drive down some of those roads in the county, what used to be forests and woods are now clear cut where they just come in and everything on the property is taken to the ground.” Speakers inside the auditorium also called for the commission to protect the county’s green spaces. “Please don’t underestimate how urgently your constituents want to see you slow down our county’s growth,” said one St. Johns County resident who spoke. “We see rural and agricultural land being converted to residential and commercial at an alarming rate.” Another growth problem is the pace at which the county is hiring new employees and keeping them. A fast-growing county also needs fast-growing law enforcement, transportation, schools, health services, infrastructure and other services. Several of the speakers placed the blame for the backlog of growth management on the county’s commissioners, accusing the leaders of recklessly green-lighting development projects without keeping pace with all that growth. I encourage St. Johns County Growth Management to become proactive rather than reactive. I also encourage this department to work holistically with other departments so that a common vision for the county converges,” said Carol Anderson, with North Beach Community Alliance. It also came out at the workshop that the commission has already approved more development. Last year, the county approved permits for 820 single-family homes. That’s said to be a record for the building department’s whole history, and the county keeps growing. In December, the Silverleaf community was approved for an expansion that would add 2,394 acres and up to 5,600 more housing units. There’s also Grand Cypress, a development going up on the bestbet gambling spot. Commissioner Ray Blocker also said during the workshop that the county should consider restructuring the commission itself, expanding the five-member panel to better fit a growing county. A couple of St. Johns County residents also pointed out that the surrounding six counties are also seeing significant growth — it’s just that St. Johns County was growing the fastest. They said figuring out a solution only in St. Johns County won’t solve anything and called for the commissioners to work with the leaders in those other counties on a bigger-picture strategy for growth management. No decisions were made by the commission on Tuesday.


From Historic City News:

Growth management workshop overview

On Friday, January 21, 2022, St Johns County Civic Roundtable Chairman Jim McLane provided Historic City News with a copy of 35 suggestions for how to better handle growth in St Johns County, as submitted to the Board of County Commissioners.  The purpose of the Roundtable is to preserve and improve the quality of life in St Johns County, and to that end, they spoke with various stakeholders to solicit their ideas.

On Tuesday morning, over 200 people attended the Growth Management Workshop at the County Auditorium, beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending just after 1:00 p.m.  There were 67 speakers who spoke for 2 hours and 41 minutes. The speakers were well informed and articulate about the need to slow down the pace of growth in the County.

The program began with 4 short presentations by staff on:

  • Local government’s role in managing growth
  • Current growth trends and infrastructure needs
  • Transportation planning and concurrency
  • Additional considerations for new development proposals

Topics brought up by the speakers included, traffic, clear-cutting of trees, the need for more libraries, parks, and land conservation, the number of variances routinely granted, the increasing number of preemption bills being considered and passed in Tallahassee, taking away local decision making, the constant amendments to the comp plan, the decreasing amount of rural and farmland, sprawl, loss of the quality of life and the reason we all came here, impacts of climate change, the impact of development on the environment and many more similar topics.

It was discussed that there is a $500 million deficit in the amount of the cost of infrastructure that is needed for the existing community. This has been caused by several factors including a reported 30% increase in the cost of construction today over the impact fees collected at the time of entitlement, which could have been 20-years ago.

The topic of a sales tax was brought up as a way of trying to fill the infrastructure deficit as well as other changes that need to be made to ensure that development going forward does not create additional infrastructure deficits.

At the end of the Workshop, the Commissioners discussed the items that they would like to pursue.

Commissioner Blocker:

  • Do we have the right form of government to address our current and future growth needs?
  • Should Mobility fees be considered?
  • Our current fee structure is probably not addressing our needs today.
  • Other counties that have experienced rapid growth have moved away from impact fees.
  • Need more sidewalks and ways to bike.
  • More community meetings for development proposals.
  • Better to hear from community early in the process.
  • Schedule future workshops at other times of the day so that more can participate.
  • Need to put Tree Preservation back on the agenda.
  • Need to finally address clear cutting.

Commissioner Waldron:

  • Would like to see the public notice area increased perhaps to countywide.
  • Would also like to examine the current form of government.
  • Suggested that applications should be considered in batches by District.
  • Noted that a lot of these subdivisions were approved years ago.
  • Issues are coming up in the south part of the county because of growth in Flagler County.

Commissioner Whitehurst:

  • District 1 is the densest
  • Deficit in fees for roads shouldn’t happen and should be a priority going forward.
  • We need to take cars off the road.
  • Kids biking to school would lessen congestion.
  • Evaluate drop-off and pick-up times.
  • Economic development incentives.
  • LAMP We have heard the community to conserve the land.
  • Commission has taken substantive steps to conserve the eco system.

Commissioner Arnold:

  • Deficient roads and traffic.
  • Would like to explore mobility fees and how to catch up.

Commission Chairman Dean:

  • Hold a similar workshop in 6 months to follow up and make this work.
  • How do you handle comp plan amendments?
  • Is there sufficient infrastructure?
  • Already entitled to build 35,000 to 55,000 lots.
  • Existing community needs include roads, law enforcement, fire stations, libraries, parks.
  • What alternative sources are available for the $500 million dollar deficit?
  • Before considering a sales tax increase, ask the citizens and put it on the ballot.

Roundtable Suggestions:

  1. Establish a long-range vision for St Johns County.
  2. Utilize a mix of land uses to cluster businesses and services near homes and jobs.
  3. Provide a wide range of housing options for people of various incomes and ages.
  4. Design distinctive, attractive communities that foster a strong sense of place.
  5. Preserve open spaces, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  6. Compact neighborhood design.
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices and make communities walkable.
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration on development decisions.
  11. Stop the constant changes to the comp plan.
  12. Provide robust training sessions for staff and leadership on the economic cost of sprawl.
  13. Establish Urban Service Boundaries creating development clusters.
  14. Incentivize infill development instead of sprawling into rural and undeveloped lands.
  15. Incentivize flexible density strategies with developers.
  16. Consider economic incentives for commercial developments that bring high paying jobs.
  17. More interagency and intercounty coordination in planning the future of the County.
  18. Promote Florida Friendly yard landscaping.
  19. No new Septic tanks.
  20. No big wetland impacts.
  21. Change “impact fees” to “mobility fees”.
  22. Evaluate high density zones.
  23. Hire additional county staff with higher salaries to attract and retain good talent.
  24. Clear and appropriate process for design and development approvals.
  25. Property Rights element needs to be changed to allow for assessment of community impact.
  26. Benchmark how other counties our size handle these issues.
  27. Encourage and Support continuing education for available to county staff.
  28. Update unified document management system to integrate word docs and spreadsheets.
  29. Encourage and incentivize development near transportation.
  30. Examine the current County governance system.
  31. Make application materials publicly accessible through the County website.
  32. Stop granting variances for requests that do not meet the “undue hardship” burden.
  33. Impact and utility connection fee relief for homes under $250,000.
  34. Continue to plan housing near transportation hubs.
  35. Create a percentage for art programs for large new developments.

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