In the heart of developing area, Steeplechase fails to get support of St. Johns County planning board

In a county surging with residential development, getting a project done in some of the busiest places is starting to become more difficult.

 

The latest victim could be the 980-home development named Steeplechase. The project off Pacetti Road near County Road 208 was recommended for denial of transmittal to the state at Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Agency meeting.


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Situated on hundreds of acres of forest, much of it used for silviculture, near residential developments including Gran Lakes and TrailMark, Steeplechase’s location might just be too good.

Citing concerns about traffic congestion and crowded schools, the majority of the PZA members said they couldn’t recommend transmittal, which is only the first step in the approval process. The final decision of whether to transmit will still go to the County Commission at an upcoming meeting.

“We’ve still got a broken portion of the county here,” PZA member Mike Koppenhaver said Thursday. “It is unfair to the people who have bought in that part of the county to throw in another 980 homes.

“The timing, in my opinion is about three or four years too late here. If this was in another part of the county, this would be a slam dunk.”

While many people at public meetings, including Thursday’s, complain that almost every development seems to get approved, that’s certainly not the case lately.

In addition to Steeplechase’s early difficulties, other recent proposals for housing developments in congested areas have been challenged or denied.

Earlier this month, Mill Creek Forest was denied by the commission. It was a plan for 305 homes on 264 acres on the north side of Greenbriar Road and to the east of Longleaf Pine Parkway. That area is deemed to have “deficient” roads.

Another development that is still seeking support is ICI/Middlebourne. It was recommended for denial by the PZA and eventually had its hearing with the commission continued when it didn’t appear to have the votes for approval.

Middlebourne is located at the intersection of Longleaf Pine Parkway and Veterans Parkway and calls for 426 single-family homes. Commissioners talked about the lack of road and school capacity around the development before the item was continued.

Attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, representing Steeplechase developer DR Horton and property owners the Pacetti family, said it’s getting more and more difficult to get developments done in portions of the county that are already very popular.

She said commissioners have been asking for projects with homes priced at levels that will generate enough tax money to pay for new residents’ impact. She said that number appears to be around $300,000. Steeplechase homes would average about $350,000, Avery-Smith said, and generate an estimated $2 million per year in property taxes when built out.

“Now they (the county commissioners) are starting to turn down developments that go above that threshold,” she said.

To make the prospect of Steeplechase more appealing to the county government and to its neighbors, the developer is proposing to give the county 138 acres of contiguous wetlands for Turnbull Creek conservation and preserve almost half of the property as open space.

It is also offering to make Pacetti Road four lanes from the entrance to Steeplechase to County Road 208 — almost a mile — in order to mitigate its traffic impact.

The original plan was to donate land for a new high school, but DR Horton representative Bob Porter said neighbors on Scaff Road didn’t want their road to be a connector to the school. And the school district didn’t want the location without the additional connection to Scaff Road.

Porter said he promised not to do the deal with Scaff Road used for school traffic, so that offer had to be dropped.

Still, the developer is offering to pay for improvements or impact fees or make land donations for a total of about $20 million.

“We think we’re adding a lot,” Porter said. “We feel like we’ve got a great project here.”

The PZA members mostly agreed, but four of them said they thought the traffic and school issues were still too much to overcome.

Porter said DR Horton has tried to do everything it can to comply with what the county is looking for in residential developments.

“We have tried to look at all of the issues that we hear in the growth workshops and what we’ve heard from the neighbors,” Porter said. “I think this is smart growth. I think it’s something that’s sensitive to the environment, sensitive to the needs of the neighbors.”

Avery-Smith said denying well-planned developments in places where people are already moving to will lead to more of a helter-skelter landscape.

“You will have a string of 30- or 40-home subdivisions instead of having one master-planned community that is properly done, that provides sufficient funds for roads and schools and things like that,” she said. “If you have a master-planned community, you get better planning. It’s smarter growth.”

• On Thursday, the PZA recommended approval for three other residential developments.

The Arbors at Valencia Planned Unit Development got a positive vote. The project near The St. Augustine Shores was first approved for 288 multi-family units but is being changed to 200 single family homes.

The PZA recommended approval of Winding Oaks, a 252-home development off State Road 207 near Interstate 95. It also voted in favor of the 30-home Cypress Estates neighborhood off U.S. 1 South near S.R. 206.

All of those developments must still go before the County Commission for final approval.

Sponger2 Harvell 9 days ago
Pacetti's have run this county too long. They sold off the fish camp a few years back and tossed the tenants. They don't deserve to be catered to. The county is too crowded already. When they are done lining their pockets they will retreat to their private enclave where they will be insulated from the mess they helped create. Good steward's they may have once been, but no longer.
Mach Hoyle 8 days ago
I'm with you on that Sponger. You've got everything from Pacetti real estate to Pacetti Plumbing, to Pacetti (Sunshine) Roofing, and God knows what else. Talk about the man behind the curtain!
 

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