The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a number of technical modifications to Nocatee’s comprehensive plan and PUD last week, changes the developers say will give them the flexibility to respond to changing market conditions.
In addition to approving The PARC Group’s request to decrease the percentage of multi-family units and provide more flexibility with regard to the siting of schools, commissioners approved a number of other technical modifications, including those related to the development of new southern neighborhoods within the master-planned community. As was the case when the matter came before the Planning & Zoning Agency last month, however, it was the proposed modifications to affordable housing provisions on which commissioners focused most of their discussions.
“This county adheres to federal guidelines for providing affordable housing,” Commissioner Jimmy Johns said. “I want to make sure we haven’t painted ourselves into a box by limiting our options.”
Previously, the developers had agreed to donate 50 acres of land in Nocatee for affordable housing development, along with $800,000 over time. But while the developers have to date given $150,000 and 10 acres of land toward that commitment, the county has yet to develop any affordable housing on the property in the decade since it was donated – a fact that seemed to surprise and dismay county commissioners.
“So we’ve had that affordable site for 10 years and so far nothing’s happened?” Commissioner Rachael Bennett asked. “I would really like to see us get something going on that site…Ten years is a long time to sit fallow.”
Commissioner Bill McClure agreed. “I’m not happy to hear we’ve had (the land) since 2006 and we haven’t really done anything with it,” McClure said.
Under the now-approved modifications, instead of donating the remaining 40 acres of land and continuing to make cash payments over time, the developers would make immediate payment of the remaining $650,000 and donate 20 acres of more valuable land on Nocatee Parkway for development as a private post-secondary institution. If after five years the school had not been developed, the developers would pay the county $1.64 million in return for retaining the 20 acres.
“We believe the proposed changes…are of mutual benefit to the county and Nocatee,” said Ray Spofford, who represented The PARC Group at the commission meeting. “Nocatee will be able to respond better to changing market conditions.”
County planning officials also supported the change, saying that the immediate cash payment would allow the county to address a number of current affordable housing challenges.
“This is an overall good deal for St. Johns County and the citizens of St. Johns County,” Planning Division Manager Teresa Bishop said.
Three county residents spoke in opposition to the change, however, citing the need to provide affordable housing for police officers, firefighters, teachers and others who might work in Nocatee.
“I don’t buy the fact that market conditions have really changed,” St. Johns resident Ellen Whitmer said. “The name of the game is to maximize profits. I’m in opposition.”
Commissioners, however, noted that many of the homes built in Nocatee met the standard for affordable housing. In addition, the construction of 9B and planned commercial developments along that corridor have changed the development landscape significantly since Nocatee was first envisioned and approved.
“Take it from someone who’s had a beautiful condo sitting on the market for over a year,” Bennett said. “The multifamily market is not here. So market conditions do change.
“Our world was a different place 15 years ago than it is now,” she continued. “I think it’s important that we realize that as times change, we need to make sure we’re not trying to force something to fit that no longer fits.”
Decrease the required percentage of multi-family units
Expand the test area to meet specific use standards for retail and office from 1 mile outside Nocatee to 3 miles outside NocateeRevise development order so that schools are not required to be built in a village center in order to give the school district more flexibility in siting schools
Revise affordable housing requirements in exchange for land donation for post-secondary institution
Clarify design standards regarding road connection to Pine Island Rd.
Allow temporary above-ground utilities in some development areas