Steeplechase transmitted to state, regional agencies for review; challenges remain

St. Johns County commissioners voted favorably Tuesday to transmit D.R. Horton’s request for a Comprehensive Plan amendment for Steeplechase, its maximum 980-home proposed project in the northwest, to state and regional agencies for review. The 4-1 vote mostly buys county staff and the developer time to work out some stubborn unknowns.

 

Commissioner Jeb Smith, alone in dissent, said he could not vote in favor of a project that could potentially exacerbate ongoing problems with overburdened roads and infrastructure. He also said he was hoping for more certainty about what the developer’s obligations to address those issues are exactly.

Commissioner Henry Dean said denying the project would do nothing to solve the county’s traffic and infrastructure problems in the northwest quadrant. He said D.R. Horton has gone “above and beyond” to provide a high-quality development plan that takes the county’s concerns into consideration.

The developer wants to change the Future Land Use Map designation from Rural/Silviculture and Park/Recreation to Residential-B for about 851.6 acres (of which about 591.75 acres are uplands) located east of Pacetti Road, south of County Road 16A and north of County Road 208.

There is an accompanying request for a rezoning of the property to Planned Unit Development. The current plan includes 951 single-family homes with a maximum of 251 units to be age-restricted. There would also be 414.85 acres of open space and 28 acres of parks, well above minimum requirements.

On Aug. 1, the transmittal hearing for Steeplechase was continued at the developers’ request to the board’s Sept. 19 meeting, which was later canceled due to Hurricane Irma.

Upon the continuance, County Attorney Patrick McCormack said the developer wanted to wait until after a joint meeting between the county and the school board, which has since taken place, in which issues of capacity and growth, and, specifically, impact fees, were discussed.

On Tuesday, however, D.R. Horton’s attorney Ellen Avery-Smith said they had requested a continuance because completed a new traffic analysis that county staff did not have time to review.

The Planning and Zoning Agency recommended denial of transmittal by a 4-3 vote on May 18, expressing concerns about congestion of roads and schools as well as a lack of funding to address deficient road segments.

Those same issues came up Tuesday, albeit with some changes as well as additional concessions made by the developer.

Public benefits identified included a commitment to private ownership and maintenance of roadways; donation of 170 acres of wetlands and uplands to the county’s Turnbull Creek Conservation Area (valued at $900,000); donation of more than $1 million, in excess of required park impact fees, for recreational improvements to the Turnbull Creek Regional Park; a commitment to improve existing water distribution system; and construction of a multi-purpose/equestrian trail.

Avery-Smith said D.R. Horton representative Bob Porter did everything asked of him by neighboring residents “except to just go away.”

However, an impact analysis provided in backup documents estimates the project would generate 846 new, external afternoon/evening peak hour trips. Adverse impacts are anticipated for Pacetti Road from C.R. 208 to Samara Lakes Parkway, International Golf Parkway from State Road 16 to Royal Pines Parkway, S.R. 16 from the West Mall Entrance to Interstate 95, S.R. 16 from I-95 to Inman Road and I-95 from IGP to County Road 210.

Further, a review by the school district indicated no capacity at any level within the Allen D. Nease High School Concurrency Service Area, but elementary school capacity in an adjacent area.

Although the developers said they’re aware impacts on roads and schools will require mitigation through concurrency review, there seemed to be some lingering disagreement between the developer and county staff as to what Steeplechase’s contribution toward the roads should be.

Porter suggested the developer was expecting to contribute about $8.6 million toward addressing traffic impacts, specifically for four-laning Pacetti Road from an existing 4-lane segment that ends at Samara Lakes down to the Trailmark entrance.

However, Phong Nguyen, county transportation development division manager, put the expected necessary road improvements more in the neighborhood of $19 million. He said that cost would include right-of-way acquisition to straighten out some s-curves and to extend the 4-laning all the way to Steeplechase’s entrance, rather than the Trailmark entrance.

Ngyuen also said some “hybrid options” may be adequate.

Avery-Smith said the system for processing concurrency for roads and schools is a “chicken and egg” system, essentially meaning the developer and county are using their own models and coming up with different numbers until the developer can actually apply for concurrency, which determines a final number.

Commission Chair Jimmy Johns said the county needs a way to identify and address differences in analyses and studies earlier in the process in order to be able to make an informed decision.

Citing the concessions made by D.R. Horton to address concerns of nearby residents and the county at large, Johns threw his support behind transmitting Steeplechase to state and regional agencies for review. He also said his concerns about the project were not necessarily the fault of the developer but, rather, the situation the county finds itself in terms of keeping up with growth.

 

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