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  • Growth management workshop overview

    On Friday, January 21, 2022, St Johns County Civic Roundtable Chairman Jim McLane provided Historic City News with a copy of 35 suggestions for how to better handle growth in St Johns County, as submitted to the Board of County Commissioners.  The purpose of the Roundtable is to preserve and improve the quality of life in St Johns County, and to that end, they spoke with various stakeholders to solicit their ideas.

    On Tuesday morning, over 200 people attended the Growth Management Workshop at the County Auditorium, beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending just after 1:00 p.m.  There were 67 speakers who spoke for 2 hours and 41 minutes. The speakers were well informed and articulate about the need to slow down the pace of growth in the County.

    The program began with 4 short presentations by staff on:

    • Local government’s role in managing growth
    • Current growth trends and infrastructure needs
    • Transportation planning and concurrency
    • Additional considerations for new development proposals

    Topics brought up by the speakers included, traffic, clear-cutting of trees, the need for more libraries, parks, and land conservation, the number of variances routinely granted, the increasing number of preemption bills being considered and passed in Tallahassee, taking away local decision making, the constant amendments to the comp plan, the decreasing amount of rural and farmland, sprawl, loss of the quality of life and the reason we all came here, impacts of climate change, the impact of development on the environment and many more similar topics.

    It was discussed that there is a $500 million deficit in the amount of the cost of infrastructure that is needed for the existing community. This has been caused by several factors including a reported 30% increase in the cost of construction today over the impact fees collected at the time of entitlement, which could have been 20-years ago.

    The topic of a sales tax was brought up as a way of trying to fill the infrastructure deficit as well as other changes that need to be made to ensure that development going forward does not create additional infrastructure deficits.

    At the end of the Workshop, the Commissioners discussed the items that they would like to pursue.

    Commissioner Blocker:

    • Do we have the right form of government to address our current and future growth needs?
    • Should Mobility fees be considered?
    • Our current fee structure is probably not addressing our needs today.
    • Other counties that have experienced rapid growth have moved away from impact fees.
    • Need more sidewalks and ways to bike.
    • More community meetings for development proposals.
    • Better to hear from community early in the process.
    • Schedule future workshops at other times of the day so that more can participate.
    • Need to put Tree Preservation back on the agenda.
    • Need to finally address clear cutting.

    Commissioner Waldron:

    • Would like to see the public notice area increased perhaps to countywide.
    • Would also like to examine the current form of government.
    • Suggested that applications should be considered in batches by District.
    • Noted that a lot of these subdivisions were approved years ago.
    • Issues are coming up in the south part of the county because of growth in Flagler County.

    Commissioner Whitehurst:

    • District 1 is the densest
    • Deficit in fees for roads shouldn’t happen and should be a priority going forward.
    • We need to take cars off the road.
    • Kids biking to school would lessen congestion.
    • Evaluate drop-off and pick-up times.
    • Economic development incentives.
    • LAMP We have heard the community to conserve the land.
    • Commission has taken substantive steps to conserve the eco system.

    Commissioner Arnold:

    • Deficient roads and traffic.
    • Would like to explore mobility fees and how to catch up.

    Commission Chairman Dean:

    • Hold a similar workshop in 6 months to follow up and make this work.
    • How do you handle comp plan amendments?
    • Is there sufficient infrastructure?
    • Already entitled to build 35,000 to 55,000 lots.
    • Existing community needs include roads, law enforcement, fire stations, libraries, parks.
    • What alternative sources are available for the $500 million dollar deficit?
    • Before considering a sales tax increase, ask the citizens and put it on the ballot.

    Roundtable Suggestions:

    1. Establish a long-range vision for St Johns County.
    2. Utilize a mix of land uses to cluster businesses and services near homes and jobs.
    3. Provide a wide range of housing options for people of various incomes and ages.
    4. Design distinctive, attractive communities that foster a strong sense of place.
    5. Preserve open spaces, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
    6. Compact neighborhood design.
    7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.
    8. Provide a variety of transportation choices and make communities walkable.
    9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
    10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration on development decisions.
    11. Stop the constant changes to the comp plan.
    12. Provide robust training sessions for staff and leadership on the economic cost of sprawl.
    13. Establish Urban Service Boundaries creating development clusters.
    14. Incentivize infill development instead of sprawling into rural and undeveloped lands.
    15. Incentivize flexible density strategies with developers.
    16. Consider economic incentives for commercial developments that bring high paying jobs.
    17. More interagency and intercounty coordination in planning the future of the County.
    18. Promote Florida Friendly yard landscaping.
    19. No new Septic tanks.
    20. No big wetland impacts.
    21. Change “impact fees” to “mobility fees”.
    22. Evaluate high density zones.
    23. Hire additional county staff with higher salaries to attract and retain good talent.
    24. Clear and appropriate process for design and development approvals.
    25. Property Rights element needs to be changed to allow for assessment of community impact.
    26. Benchmark how other counties our size handle these issues.
    27. Encourage and Support continuing education for available to county staff.
    28. Update unified document management system to integrate word docs and spreadsheets.
    29. Encourage and incentivize development near transportation.
    30. Examine the current County governance system.
    31. Make application materials publicly accessible through the County website.
    32. Stop granting variances for requests that do not meet the “undue hardship” burden.
    33. Impact and utility connection fee relief for homes under $250,000.
    34. Continue to plan housing near transportation hubs.
    35. Create a percentage for art programs for large new developments.