St Augustine Senator John Thrasher has been visibly backpedaling to wipeout last-minute tweaks lawmakers made in 2012 that allowed 607 acres of Joe Anderson’s property in northwest St Johns County to receive “agriculture enclave” status.
Yesterday, the Florida Senate passed a larger growth management bill that included an amendment that would eliminate last year’s change — but its effect on Anderson’s property, which he would like to develop, is still up in the air.
The agriculture enclave designation helps pave the way for a housing development proposed by Anderson; however, Thrasher’s amendment would be applied retroactively and Senate staff has stated that could be unconstitutional.
“To the extent that the provisions of this bill may be applied retroactively, provisions of the bill may prompt concerns regarding the unconstitutional impairment of contract,” read a staff analysis of SB-528.
Thrasher argues that last year’s amendment appeared four minutes before it was passed out of the Senate and that he was not aware the amendment was tacked onto a larger growth management bill.
“I’m asking you to restart the thing and start over again, so my county can have some control over these projects,” Thrasher was quoted from the Senate floor while still seeking support for his new amendment.
The House is not considering similar agriculture enclave language, but that chamber can pass the Senate’s version. It is unknown whether Thrasher’s amendment will get the chance to “un-ring the bell” from last year’s amendment, but St Johns County commissioners and local officials clearly do not like Tallahassee meddling in what they see as a property use issue within their authority to regulate.
Anderson, who also owns powerful road construction company Anderson Columbia, and his proponents, said Anderson was left no choice but to turn to the Legislature — after they tried for two years to get an answer from the county.
Saying in an e-mail to Thrasher last year that he felt the county had Anderson “over a barrel”, an Anderson Columbia lobbyist wrote that Anderson was right to ask the Legislature to make the county deal with Anderson in a fair manner.