Commissioner Dean: ‘We have to deal with the growth’ in St. Johns County

The chance that growth in St. Johns County is going to significantly decrease in the foreseeable future is pretty remote.


That was the message from St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean when he spoke Friday at a St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce event in St. Augustine. And it was backed up by data from county growth management director Suzanne Konchan and her staff.

“We’re going to have growth,” Dean said. “If anybody thinks we’re not going to have growth or we can adopt some rule or ordinance or law to stop growth, that ain’t going to happen.

“We cannot have a wall between Duval and St. Johns counties and give people day passes to come down and be tourists. We have to deal with the growth.”

That was the topic of discussion at the Historic St. Augustine Area Council meeting, and it’s been one of the major topics of discussion among almost everyone in the county at least through the 2000s — if not before.

Konchan presented guests with a look at what is coming for a county that has already added 45,000 residents since 2010.

She showed that permits for new single-family homes in the county are on pace with the 2004 fiscal year (which runs October to October) of about 4,000. That would be behind the record pace of 4,800 in fiscal year 2005.

In the latest monthly building report, the county recorded 351 permits for single-family homes in April. That’s higher than any April since the recession and higher than all but one monthly total prior to the current fiscal year.

For the calendar year, the county issued 1,370 single-family home permits in 2017, through April. That pace suggests there will be more than 4,000 permits issued this calendar year. In 2016, the total was about 3,400.

“It has been a steady and more sustainable level of permits that we’ve had these last four years,” Konchan said. “We’ll see that go up but not that spike and hopefully not that trough we saw leading up to the Great Recession.”

Why does this pace appear sustainable? Part of it is the economy, although that can always change.

But the main reason is the constant influx of more development applications. Konchan said about 10,000 new housing units have been approved in the last five years. Another 8,400 new units are currently somewhere in the review process.

And that doesn’t count older developments that have rights to build thousands of homes and are in the process of doing so.

“We could hit 4,000 (new homes) this calendar year,” Konchan said. “Time will tell. We’ll see how the economy and demand continues.”

Konchan added that commercial permits are also up, including a marked increase in applications for self-storage facilities.

With the increased building activity and rise in population here, Dean and Konchan were asked about ways to mitigate traffic congestion, school overcrowding and other growth-related issues. They were also asked about the potential impact of expanding the homestead property tax exemption by $25,000.

Dean said transportation, always a great concern among those who live and work in downtown St. Augustine, was the biggest growth issue facing the county and the city.

“I just think we need to continue working together, the city and the county working together to see what options we do have,” Dean said. “Maybe the county should look at expanding its somewhat nominal public transportation system, the Sunshine Bus.”

Making any improvements to roads is going to be difficult, though, especially if the homestead exemption goes through. Dean said that would result in the loss of about $10 million per year to the county’s general fund.

One of the few bright spots is the extension of State Road 9B into St. Johns County to relieve some stress on Race Track Road. But other than that, the cupboards are bare.

“We’re struggling to meet ongoing operations and maintenance and repair of our existing facilities,” Konchan said. “To the best of my knowledge, there are very few dollars in the 2018 budget — probably zero dollars — for new road construction out of the county’s general fund.

“We have impact fees that will go to some projects, but they’re not high enough to build significant amounts of new roadways. So every dollar lost through homestead exemption or any other means puts that much more challenge on the county.”

Dean agreed that the county was “already behind” but did not offer any solutions as to how to counter the potential loss of revenue.

At the same time, Dean said he supported projects that paid for themselves, like the recent ICI Homes project called Middlebourne. The 450-home development at the intersection of Longleaf Pine Parkway and Veterans Parkway came before the County Commission in April and was continued. Other commissioners said they were concerned about lack of school capacity in the area.

The homes there would have cost an average of about $500,000, providing a wealth of property tax revenue, Dean said. The status of the project is still uncertain.

“I thought that was a really good project to go forward,” Dean said. “If we don’t look at those as good projects and approve them, if we just stop approving those kinds of developments, we have a huge backlog of entitled lots in this county … there will be a strain in our ability to go forward.”

Moving ahead, it’s clear growth is likely to remain the No. 1 topic for Dean and all local politicians for some time.

”Personally, I want to see sound, well-planed, orderly economic growth in this county, both in the residential and from a business standpoint,” Dean said.

He pointed out that the state’s population has gone from just less than 7 million in 1970 to about 20.6 million in 2016. Meanwhile, the county has gone from about 31,000 in 1970 to 235,000 residents.

“While the state has grown three fold, the county has grown as of today nine fold since 1970,” Dean said. “So it’s little wonder that we have transportation issues, school classroom issues, traffic issues.

“Growth can be wonderful, but it brings its own set of problems, as we learn.”

Nigel Owens 6 months ago
"well-planed, orderly economic growth" That boat already sailed genius. 

Tom Reynolds 6 months ago
All of the problems from growth are because of St Johns County Commission failures. The St Johns County Commissioners have refused to raise impact fees. The County Commissioners always are are afraid to speak up for the residents because it might make the developers upset. I have asked St Johns County Commissioners on several different occasions to raise the impact and developers fees. The Commissioners look down from their perches with angry looks at me. For way too man years the St Johns County Commissioners have been Developers Puppets. The real answer to a lot of our County problems would be solved if the impact fee were collected UPFRONT when the building PERMIT is issued. 

All of the development in North West County and North East does need to come to a halt or slowed down to a Turtle with a broken leg crawl. The growth should be in South County in the 95 area. It should be done in an environmentally "urban tall" fashion.  This County is in need of Senior Citizen Affordable housing as well as affordable work force Housing. The South County should become a Medical Corridor from west of the 95 down to around US 1 . This should include a Med School or a Medical School satellite style campus. Hopefully this Med School will Specialize in Senior Citizen Care. This could be achieved with several ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY HIGH RISE Senior Housing Complexes.. Keeping all the Rural looks and by going "URBAN TALL", we will be avoiding Urban Sprawl ! 

Thank you,
Tom Reynolds, a Candidate for St Johns County Commission 2018   

Bill LAZAR 6 months ago
you realize there will be no growth in any level of rental development, which is what much of our local workforce can afford as they continue to raise impact fees? You simply cannot finance them, in addition to construction and infrastructure, and make rents work. That's what our graduating highschoolers need, it's what our workforce needs to prepare themselves to save and become first time homebuyers. New home prices will continue to price out our locals, simply because people are moving her with more money than common sense, and we cannot compete with their available cash. Everyone wants everyone else to pay, and the new folks are moving here, because the advertising says " lowest taxes around, you won't have to pay much"
Tom Reynolds 6 months ago
I agree 100 % Bill and that is why I will be encouraging just that . In the way I see growth, the rental market will be  a HUGE PART of the growth ! 
Roy Miller 3 months ago
Tom Reynolds, u got my vote. Now we need 4 more like you.
Sponger2 Harvell 6 months ago
On this we agree Nigel.  Problem is, we have not had ANY growth management since developers, real estate agencies, attorneys, and The Bailey group started propping up "their" candidates for commission seats nearly thirty years ago, and this is the result.
Nigel Owens 6 months ago
The state has a role as well. They pretty much hamstrung local municipalities from regulating growth to any meaningfull degree.  Just look at their attempts this year!  They will not rest until large developers can write their own legislation(if they don't already) to stifle local growth regulation so they can bolster their bottom lines. 
MARTY 6 months ago
8400 homes in the "review state",  any chance that they will be denied?  No, I don't think so.  The county planning and zoning dept only has one rubber stamp, and it says "APPROVED".  The only new rentals coming on the market, will be locals who leave to find a little peace and quiet and rent their homes out to newcomers.  
Richey Esbin 6 months ago
Impact fees currently do not represent the cost of the infrastructure needed for new development.
Obvious solution, raise them, to be more than symbolic.
If this isn't done the county starts out in a negative position and has no chance of ever even breaking even on the true cost of development
Deb Graham 6 months ago
taking a step back: Has there been any research to truly determine why St Johns County is experiencing a bigger growth than the rest of the state? Is it our schools, or is it something else? Just curious. 
jason hamilton 6 months ago
“While the state has grown three fold, the county has grown as of today nine fold since 1970,”

    And no one finds this odd or out of balance.

“Maybe the county should look at expanding its somewhat nominal public transportation system, the Sunshine Bus.”

    Drum roll please...
       ......and the answer to congestion issues is The Sunshine Bus!  What a snotty out of touch position to take.

At the same time, Dean said he supported projects that paid for themselves, ...... Other commissioners said they were concerned about lack of school capacity in the area."

      So does this project pay for its self or not?  

St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean seems to be the perfect lead roll in The Emperor's  New Clothes. Add in his flippant attitude towards the voting residents of the county and the developers have a perfect delusional pawn for their gain. What a jerk. 
Roy Miller 3 months ago
Bring in more citizens. Build three more schools a year. Pump down the aquifer so that families that are lucky enough to live in the country can't have nice fresh, clean water.