Saturday, February 26, 2022

St. Augustine residents push back against development proposals on Anastasia Island. (SAR)

Support the Fish Island Community Alliance, the citizens who are organizing to preserve and protect nature on Anastasia Island in St. Augustine, Florida.  

From St. Augustine Record:

St. Augustine residents push back against development proposals on Anastasia Island

Anastasia Lake residents, others opposed to arts center, affordable housing at site

Sheldon Gardner
St. Augustine Record

Elizabeth Smith and Kay Gulick are used to seeing an abundance of wildlife enjoying the land around their Anastasia Lakes community off State Road 312 on Anastasia Island in St. Augustine

Wood storks, otters, roseate spoonbills, deer, herons, armadillos and other creatures call the area home, they said. 

But they say they are concerned that development on city-owned land on Fish Island Road near their community would harm wildlife and have other negative impacts, such as losing flooding protection. 

"Residents of the island are really upset about overdevelopment," Smith said. 

Development:St. Augustine to study building affordable housing at three city-owned sites

Wildlife:North Atlantic right whale Derecha spotted near Marineland before heading to Vero Beach

Elizabeth Smith and Kay Gulick stand on Anastasia Island. They would like to see about 31 acres of city-owned land in the area preserved.

Smith and Gulick, who spoke to The Record near Anastasia Lakes on Wednesday, are part of the Fish Island Community Alliance, a nonprofit Smith formed with her husband. The group focuses on quality-of-life issues affecting residents, and members are opposed to development at the site. Recent development ideas include an arts center and the possibility of affordable housing. 

"We deal with traffic. We deal with noise pollution. We hear sirens all day long. There's actually a difference in the air quality," Smith said. "So it's not just about wildlife habitat. It's also about quality-of-life issues and also resilience. The neighborhoods in this area flood, and we need more permeable surface. We don't need more land paved over." 

The City of St. Augustine owns 865 Fish Island Road, which is about 31 acres with access to Mizell Road. The site, which is a former landfill, includes a wastewater treatment facility that is not in service. 

The land is separate from Fish Island Preserve, which the State of Florida bought for $6.5 million to keep undeveloped. The city manages that land, which is on Anastasia Island next to the S.R. 312 bridge overlooking the Matanzas River. In an attempt to address the critical lack of affordable housing in St. Johns County, the city is looking into the feasibility of developing affordable housing at the 865 Fish Island Road site; a couple of acres at 800 Plantation Island Drive S.; and 450 N. Holmes Blvd, which is about 82 acres with about 26 acres of ponds. 

As of Thursday, the city had not yet secured a consultant to study the affordable housing options, according to city spokeswoman Melissa Wissel. 

The City of St. Augustine is looking into the possibility of building affordable housing near the State Road 312 and Mizell Road intersection, but nearby residents want the city to preserve the land from development.

The St. Augustine EpiCentre Alliance, a nonprofit, presented a proposal to the City Commission in January to build a performing arts center on the Fish Island Road site. The commission had concerns and mixed opinions on the proposal but didn't make a final decision, instead focusing first on affordable housing.

Albert Syeles, leader of the EpiCentre Alliance, said the group is hopeful that the city will still approve the performing arts center proposal. But the group is looking at several other locations.

"It depends on who makes the deal first, basically," he said, adding that they want to "find a place that works best for everybody."

Smith said members of the Fish Island Community Alliance support the arts and understand the need for affordable housing.

"It's just that this is not the right location. It doesn't make sense to bring people over the bridge onto a crowded island … particularly when the city-owned land on Holmes Boulevard is a much more amenable site," she said. 

A group of deer visit land near State Road 312 and Mizell Road in St. Augustine.

Gulick, who has lived in Anastasia Lakes for over 28 years, said development "has squeezed" wildlife in already, such as Isla Antigua being built north of the State Road 312 bridge.

"Since we've lived here we have seen the major encroachment of their living space," she said. 

Smith said while the group's immediate goal is preserving the land, it has a wider mission.

"And that is to educate, to help people understand exactly what's here because people will protect what they love and know," she said. 

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