Franklin County today moved toward rescinding the last two of four controversial land-use changes approved in 2005 that allowed The St. Joe Co. to build up to 2,400 homes in eastern Franklin County.
Franklin County after 2005 twice defended the land use changes to legal challenges before the governor and Cabinet. The Cabinet decides disputes when local comprehensive plans are not found in compliance with state law.
The Franklin County Commission in 2005 approved changing St. Joe land from agricultural to various new land use categories that allowed marinas, hotels other commercial development and homes along Ochlockonee Bay and east of Carrabelle. Critics said the new developments threatened water quality and the seafood industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, the Franklin County Commission proposed rescinding two of the land-use changes and voted earlier this year to rescind the other two. That vote today now goes to the Florida Department of Community Affairs for review.
“The rationale essentially was the lack of future population growth did not warrant the allocation of residential land we had,” said Alan Pierce, Franklin County’s director of administrative services. “That was the central issue — that we didn’t have enough population growth to warrant having this on our map.”
Don and Pamela Ashley, a Franklin County couple who have battled the DCA, St. Joe and Franklin County in the courts, said they were pleased by the County Commission’s vote. Don Ashley said the land-use approvals in 2005 followed a long-range planning process called “visioning” during which residents were told there wouldn’t be land-use map changes proposed — but then they were anyway.
Ashley said Franklin County in 2005 failed to analyze St. Joe’s proposed developments for their effects on natural resources, affordable housing, infrastructure, public access to water and other criteria as required in the county’s growth policies.
“The fact is many of us take this area a little bit for granted and don’t quite — I don’t think — fully appreciate how sensitive it is to water quality issues (and) stormwater issues — certainly to nutrient loading,” he said. “I think the communities are more sensitive than they were in 2005.”
Pierce said the environmental issues were not a factor in the Franklin County Commission’s vote today.
“Those have not changed since we thought the land had suitability” when land use was changed from agricultural in 2005, Pierce said.
St. Joe Co. attorney Bryan Duke said the company needs to see the Franklin County’s data and analysis, which are required by state law to support the proposed land use changes, before the company can comment.
He declined to say whether the company’s plans for Franklin County are unraveling because of the Franklin County’s decisions in recent months. But he did say the county has not explained why it is scaling back the development allowed on St. Joe Co. lands but not on other lands in Franklin County.
“We are just reacting to what they are doing right now,” Duke said. “I think that is the safest thing to say.”
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com . Do not redistribute without permission).