The St. Johns County Civic Roundtable strongly urges the County Commission to reconstitute and fund the Land Acquisition and Management Program (LAMP) to be competitive with other counties for matching state land conservation funds.
Surveys of County residents have repeatedly listed land conservation, green spaces and growth management as leading priorities. LAMP can be an important investment by the County to maintain its high quality of life for its residents. Even during this period of declining revenues because of the pandemic, the State of Florida has found the means and will to fund its premiere land acquisition program, Florida Forever, at $100 million for the current fiscal year.
The County is going to need to provide matching funds to be able to compete for any Florida Forever funds. LAMP is one of the easiest and best vehicles to compete for land conservation funds in the future. As the richest county in the State, the Commission should be able to reinstate LAMP and recognize the leading concern of its residents for effective land conservation.
This is the second year the Civic Roundtable has requested funding of LAMP and we respectfully request the Commission give it serious consideration during your ongoing budget discussions. Our organization is available to help make LAMP a reality again in St. Johns County.
Amendment to Articles IV and XII of the
St. Johns County Land Development Code
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable supports the County's adoption of an ordinance imposing fines for unauthorized tree removal or land clearing with the following recommendations:
1. Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) should be added to the species of tree assessed with higher fines for specimens 2 inches and greater along with Sand Live Oaks (Quercus geminata) Southern Red Cedars (Juniperus silicicola).
2. The area in which Sand Live Oaks, Southern Red Cedars and Southern Live Oaks are considered Protected Trees for species over 2 inches should be expanded to include areas west of the Intracoastal Waterway to Interstate I-95.
3. The fines assessed for all categories of unauthorized tree removal should be doubled to more accurately reflect the actual cost of purchasing replacement trees and serve as an effective deterrent to unauthorized tree removal.
Rationale for above Protected Tree Removal Recommendations
Rationale for above Resolution
1. As proposed, the Protected Tree Removal ordinance does not include the Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginians). The prevalence and significance of the Southern Live Oak in our county warrants its protection. It is only fitting that the country's oldest city is also home to an over 600-year old Live Oak, the Old Senator tree, an historic landmark and its oldest resident.
2. The area of jurisdiction should be expanded to include lands west of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to the boundary of I-95. County land west of ICW is critically important for its hammocks, wetlands and wildlife habitats. The draft ordinance would not have covered the unauthorized clear cutting of trees on Gun Club Road as objected by Commissioner Blocker late last year.
3. The tree fines for all categories should be doubled to act as a greater deterrent to unpermitted tree removal and to more accurately reflect tree replacement costs. St. Johns County fine structure should be competitive with neighboring counties to be effective. For example the fine for clear cutting in Duval County is $50,000 per acre and the proposed fine for St. Johns County is $30,000 per acre.
Short Term Rentals
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable opposes the Florida Legislature HB 1011 and SB 1128 of 2020. These bills are of immediate concern for the City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County, they move to enact regulations for short-term, vacation rental operations and centralize powers at the state on matters best overseen by local governments. Enactment of HB 1011 and SB 1128 would deny communities the right to address short-term rental issues and would nullify many existing local short-term rental rules or requirements. They will remove the ability of Florida's cities and counties to enact and administer sensible rules that accommodate commercial vacation rental operations while preserving residential character of neighborhoods. State preemption of local controls, as embodied in HB 1011 and SB 1128, is contrary to strengthening Florida's local communities in leadership and governance. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "The government closest to the people serves the people best."
Short Term Rentals
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable, opposes actions by the Florida Legislature to preempt local regulations being considered and enacted on short term rentals. We believe these issues are best overseen by local governments and that a one size fits all approach embodied in HB 1011 and SB 1128, are of immediate concern. The City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County are working to address the challenges and opportunities of short term rentals and enact regulations for short-term rental operations. This has and is being done with efforts taken to garner both local citizen participation and industry input.
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable supports and requests that County Commissioners reestablish and fund the LAMP program. We also support the establishment of a voluntary contribution program.
So that citizens may contribute to acquiring, conserving and preserving ecologically and historically important property in our county.
Planning and Zoning Board Appointments
The St Johns Civic Roundtable urges the County Commission to take into account the following when making appointments to the Planning and Zoning Agency Board.
1. There are a large number of very qualified applicants for seats on the Planning and Zoning Agency Board. We support and encourage active citizen engagement and therefore urge you to look at these candidates and not just reappoint people who have already served. Appointments to the County Boards and Commissions should involve the greatest number of our citizens.
2. We urge you to seek diversity in the composition of the Planning and Zoning Agency Board. For example, there are several women who have applied and are clearly qualified. We believe it is time to appoint a more representative board and urge you to appoint a woman.
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable urges the SJC Board of County Commissioners to deny the transmittal of COMPAMD 2019-03 Vista Tranquila. A request to amend Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map to change 74 contiguous acres from Conservation to Residential-A Coastal and CV.
We ask you to deny the land use change due to the negative impact of the proposed development to the Guana River. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the "Guana River, including the waters north of the dam at Guana River Road, is within a designated State Aquatic Preserve with an Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW) water quality classification".
This ecologically significant parcel bordered by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NER) serves as a filter to the water quality of Guana Lake. This area is "an ecosystem that has not been overly degraded by development and polluted runoff which is becoming rare in Northeast Florida" as stated by the Florida Wildlife Federation.
We ask that the land remain in conservation for the environmental health of the citizens of St. Johns County.
HB 7103 Veto Request
The St Johns County Civic Association Roundtable urges Governor DeSantis to veto HB 7103.
1. Undermines local elected officials and citizens the right to shape the future of their communities.
2. Requires individuals or groups who challenge development proposals and lose, to pay attorney fees even though existing law covers attorney fees for frivolous suits.
3. Requires local government for growth, rather than input from local entities.
4. Restricts local governments ability to require affordable housing as part of new development.