St. Johns County commissioners delay decision on 426-home development in northwest

St. Johns County commissioners on Tuesday decided not to decide on a large development in the northwest that was unanimously recommended for denial by Planning and Zoning Agency members who said it was “too much too soon.”

 

Located at the intersection of Longleaf Pine Parkway and Veterans Parkway, ICI/Middlebourne calls for development of a maximum of 450 single-family homes, 187,500 square feet of commercial space and 152,500 square feet of office space in an area that has done nothing but grow in recent years. The property is nearly surrounded by Planned Unit Developments (PUDs): Julington Creek to the north, Julington Lakes and Aberdeen to the west and Oakridge Landing to the east, with Industrial Warehouse and Open Rural uses to the south.

Despite modifications made by the developers to their plan, commissioners, much like PZA members at their January meeting, expressed concerns over a lack of road and school capacity, as well as a lack of public resources to fund and plan improvements ahead of the project. The 4-0 vote to continue the matter to a future meeting, for which a date is yet to be determined, came after about two hours of discussion during which Commissioner Henry Dean left to catch a flight.

Dean was flying to Washington to represent the county in a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding beach renourishment. It was announced at the head of the meeting that one commissioner would be leaving at 3:30 p.m.; Dean stuck it out to about 3:45 p.m.

Before leaving, however, Dean announced that he would have voted in favor of the development because he thought it would “bring more to the table than it takes away.” He said although he’s repeatedly said development should pay for itself, that should not apply to addressing existing deficiencies.

Mori Hosseini, CEO of ICI Homes, said his vision is to build a “high-end” development of homes with an average price north of $500,000.

“Tax-wise, that clearly pays for itself,” he said, adding that the roads within the gated community would be privately funded and maintained.

Both the PZA and County Commission complemented ICI Homes and recognized the area’s appropriateness for the development but said there were problems with timing, especially when it comes to mitigating for a lack of services and infrastructure not addressed by concurrency review, including but not limited to fire services, libraries and parks.

Since the PZA meeting, developers reduced the number of homes to 426 and addressed some of the concerns for nearby roads identified by county staff.

The proposed project will generate an estimated 947 new, external afternoon/evening peak hour trips with adverse impacts to nearby segments of Race Track Road, Veterans Parkway and Longleaf Pine Parkway. Road improvements would be made either through proportionate share mitigation payments, expected to be somewhere between $4 million and $4.5 million, or through actual construction of the improvements by the developer (who says they can do it cheaper than what the county is projecting).

Developers also said other projects in the area would be contributing to road improvements as they come online or hit thresholds.

Commissioner Jimmy Johns said the options being considered are small pieces of a bigger picture that still needs attention. He said the board will come up with solutions if no one else can.

Commissioner Jay Morris said the county is unable to keep up with existing demand.

“What you can’t do, we can’t do,” he said. “For me, it’s coming in too soon.”

Commissioner Jeb Smith echoed concerns over timing and the county’s shortfalls in dealing with roads and infrastructure backlogs.

Meanwhile, ICI/Middlebourne is expected to generate 346.5 students, and the school district has indicated there is insufficient capacity at all school levels within the Creekside School Concurrency Service Area and adjacent areas.

Attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, representing the applicant, said the developers have acknowledged the existing deficiencies and that any added strains on the school system would be mitigated through the district’s proportionate share mitigation process. She said the 426 homes will likely pay a total of $9 million toward school construction, to say nothing of annual property taxes.

David Haas with ICI Homes said previous deficiencies have to be taken care of in other ways.

The developers want to build ICI/Middlebourne in one 15-year phase but did not elaborate on when commissioners could expect to see the commercial components, except to say residential rooftops would come first.

Commissioners on Nov. 1 transmitted the developer’s requests for state and regional agency review but, as Morris had predicted, they offered no comments on the matter. The PZA on Jan. 19 recommended denial of both items by 6-0 votes.

Officials on Tuesday said agendas for the County Commission’s April meetings are already full and that the development will likely not come back before the board until at least May.

Other business

Commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of enacting a moratorium of up to a year on acceptance, processing or issuance of applications or permits for all forms of medical marijuana operations. The moratorium applies to retail facilities of dispensing organizations for low-THC cannabis and medical cannabis as well as for medical marijuana treatment centers.

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters (and 72.7 percent of St. Johns County voters) last November and enacted Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than what was previously allowed by state law. The Florida Department of Health must promulgate rules within six months and issue identification cards, as well as fulfill other statutory requirements, after nine months. The state Legislature will also have a say during its 60-day session.

County staff is researching and preparing regulations regarding zoning and licensing and to determine costs to the county in terms of administration and enforcement.

 

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