While the county Planning and Zoning Agency focused its discussions primarily on how changes to Nocatee’s plans would impact the county’s affordable housing efforts, Nocatee residents were more concerned with how the proposed modifications would impact future development of the community’s Town Center.
At a meeting held at Nocatee’s Crosswater Hall the night before the PZA hearing, representatives from The PARC Group explained the proposed changes and assured residents that attracting more retail, restaurants and businesses to Nocatee Town Center remains a top priority. PARC Group President and CEO Rick Ray told the more than 80 residents in attendance that efforts to bring in new retail and business offerings to Town Center are both “ongoing and intense.”
“Retail is critical,” Ray said. “You can’t have a growing residential community without retail – and believe me, we want to see it much more than you do. But you can’t make somebody open a business until they’re ready.”
One of the key requirements many retailers seek in a new location, Ray said, is heavy daytime traffic. “When we can bring more offices to Town Center,” Ray said, “that will greatly help us bring in more restaurants and retail, because they need the daytime traffic.”
Ray said the focus on retail in Nocatee has always been on retailers who would provide neighborhood services to Nocatee residents, not big-box retailers aimed at attracting customers from across Northeast Florida.
“We don’t want large big-box retailers that will bring regional traffic into your neighborhoods,” he told residents.
Lakeside resident Joel Cantor asked why the developers didn’t coordinate development more closely with retailers.
“I think some of the impatience among residents is because development hasn’t occurred hand-in-hand with retail establishments,” Cantor said. “I’m hoping your vision doesn’t evolve away from that. It would be nice not to have to drive 20 or 30 minutes to Duval County to conduct all our business.”
Ray said that unlike other master-planned communities such as The Villages – a large, centrally located senior community with lots of daytime traffic – Nocatee’s location near the ocean and Tolomato Preserve created a more challenging development environment.
“We are not in an urban location, so we have to be a bit more patient (in attracting retail),” Ray said. “As we add more homes, more offices and increase daytime traffic, it will happen. Our desire is to have the exact same thing.”
An evolving project
While stressing that The PARC Group is not reducing its plans for retail/office space in Nocatee Town Center, Ray acknowledged that the vision for Nocatee has evolved since planning for the community began in the late 1990s. For example, while Nocatee was originally approved for 14,500 homes, Ray told residents that he now anticipates the final number will be about 20 percent less than that, or around 11,600 homes.
Nocatee has also developed with more single-family homes than originally planned, he said. “We initially envisioned more than 300 multi-family units in Town Center,” Ray said. “We don’t think that’s the right thing to do now. We stopped, because we didn’t think it was right to put that in our Town Center.”
COO Greg Barbour agreed.
“Fifteen years ago, we thought the core (of Nocatee) would look more like Southpoint and Butler, with five- and six-story buildings,” Barbour said. “That just hasn’t materialized.”
As a result, one of the proposed modifications calls for decreasing the percentage of multi-family housing in Town Center.
In addition, the developers said, the landscape surrounding Nocatee has changed dramatically in the past 15 years. Since 2000, the area has seen the construction of Nocatee Parkway, 9B, new I-95 interchanges and new developments that are expected to offer 5 million square feet of big-box retailers, office space and multi-family housing.
Currently, Barbour said, 40 percent of Nocatee has been built out, with another 25 to 35 percent in the planning stages. That leaves 25 to 35 percent still to be developed – making this the right time to modify Nocatee’s plan to reflect current market conditions.
“We believe these are all positive improvements that provide us with some flexibility and truly are for the betterment of the Nocatee community as a whole,” Barbour said.
Coastal Oaks resident Richard Meyers said he found the session “very informative.”“I think it addressed a lot of the information that’s been floating about on social media,” Meyers said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there and I think the presentation did a good job of clearing up some of the confusion.”