Putting Nassau County Florida news in the light.

Rayonier did not show up for a scheduled workshop Monday afternoon with county officials to discuss funding for recreation within company’s 24,000 acre stewardship district known as the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), according to discussion at the County Commission meeting later in the day.

Rayonier did not send representatives to a scheduled meeting Monday with the County Commission to discuss recreation funding at the company's East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), a 24,000 acre stewardship district.

Rayonier did not send representatives to a scheduled meeting Monday with the County Commission to discuss recreation funding at the company’s East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), a 24,000 acre stewardship district. Photo: US Dept. of Agriculture.

The company through its Raydient land trust is planning to fund recreation with bonds, said officials, and has provided analysis to county officials, who apparently have concerns about the plan after reading two reports, according to discussion.

The commission agreed to send four representatives to a meeting of the stewardship’s leadership on Thursday, where a vote is set to take place to pursue bond funding. Representatives include County Manager Shanea Jones, Budget Director Justin Stankiewicz, County Attorney Michael Mullin, and a representative of the Nassau County Economic Development Board. Laura DiBella is the executive director.

Commissioners agreed that the representatives will ask for a continuance and also request that Rayonier send representatives to a county meeting to explain their plans. The stewardship district has its own elected board.

“They’re planning to go to the bank…they need to come talk to us,” said Commissioner Steve Kelley, who along with Commissioner George Spicer did not support the company’s stewardship district.

Nassau County Commissioner Justin Taylor

Nassau County Commissioner Justin Taylor

“I don’t think we have a say at this point,” said Commission Chair Pat Edwards, who supported the stewardship district along with Commissioner Danny Leeper and Commissioner Justin Taylor.

In November 2016, the board sent a letter of support to the legislature. State lawmakers were required to approve the deal and looked for support from local leadership.

Mr. Edwards delivered a public rebuke to residents who stepped to the speaker podium to oppose the stewardship district at the Nov. 28, 2016 meeting.

“You’re scared or don’t want to grow. You don’t want anybody here,” he said. “If you have a lot of money, go buy it all and do what you want to do with it.”

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Taylor received campaign donations from top-level Rayonier executives when they ran for the commission in 2016.

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Also at the commission meeting:

Containing Urban Sprawl County Commissioners underscored a commitment to contain urban sprawl on the west side of Nassau County by refusing to change its land use map to accommodate commercial development in Callahan around the intersection of US 1 and Roy Booth Rd., which is classified as agricultural land.

The board was asked to consider the change as part of the property owner’s request for commercial zoning for a 12-acre site to build a facility for a foam insulation business.

While the county’s Planning & Zoning board approved the request in December, staff recommended denial, saying the 2030 long-range plan calls for “fiscally sustained” development – and that’s not commercial development far from the center of downtown Callahan, about three and a half miles away, according to Planning Director Taco Pope.

Mr. Pope said the county is trying to move away from zoning that calls for a continuous line-up of “gas stations and mattress stores” along commercial corridors, like Blanding Blvd. in Jacksonville and SR 200/A1A in Yulee.

“Sometimes we look at individual parcels but not the bigger picture,” he said. “If the only requirement is frontage on a commercial road, we end up with commercial strip development.

Mr. Pope said the Urban Land Institute has made recommendations about land use for the county’s west side and the West Nassau Heritage Subcommittee, a grass roots initiative, is scheduled to meet for the first time Feb. 20.

Mr. Pope cited James Madison, an author of the Federalist Papers, and contemporary Public Administration expert Douglas Morgan in remarks about why planning staff recommended denial. He claimed there is not a disconnect between the Planning Board and staff. “The conversation is that sprawl is a problem,” he said.

There was discussion that the Land Use Code dates to 1991 and that the closest water and waste water connections are three and half miles away in the Town of Callahan,

Local resident Caroline Jackson said the traffic around the intersection is dangerous and noisy. She said there have been fatalities and over the years two cars have landed in her yard. She questioned whether the land is suitable for residential use. “I say not,” she said. If zoned commercial, she asked if it will affect her taxes. “Otherwise I would not object.”

Former Callahan Mayor Shirley Graham said the town could use more jobs, but “I don’t think we need anything that adds more traffic.” She said the Florida Department of Transportation is planning to look at intersection improvements in 2020.

Commissioner Taylor said the county doesn’t want development on US 1, “like we have on 200″ in Yulee. “It’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent.”

Commissioner Leeper said he could see “both sides” of the argument, including balancing private property rights with “smart growth principles.”

Commission Chair Pat Edwards said he was concerned that a store opened in the area without connections to public water and waste water lines (there was mention that the store was a Dollar General).

Mr. Edwards also said he sees what Yulee looks like and that business has been pushed down roads that can’t accommodate commercial activity. He said the board should follow the advice of the people “we’re paying.”

Commissioner Spicer commended planning staff and said, “We have to be more proactive.”

Commissioner Kelley asked about roadway safety for the resident who expressed concern about traffic dangers.

After failing to change the land use map, the board did not need to vote on whether to approve the property owner’s request for a zoning change to commercial from Open Rural.

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Animal Tethering, Proposed Changes to Ordinance County officials will hold another ‘fact finding’ meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 6:00 p.m. at 543350 US 1 in Callahan (in the multi-use building) to discuss changes to the board’s animal control ordinances. Officials are considering changes that would prohibit tethering unattended animals and transporting unsecured animals in the bed of a pick-up truck (animals have fallen out of truck beds and have been killed by passing traffic, according to animal control employees).  County Attorney Michael Mullin said more than 100 people turned out for a meeting last week.

After the meeting Thursday, two more ‘Fact Finding’ meetings will be held. There is a meeting March 6 at 1:00 p.m. in commission chambers at 96135 Nassau Place in Yulee. And a meeting March 13 at 1:00 p.m. at the Callahan multi-use facility.

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Amelia Island Trails, Request for Support and Funding Phil Scanlan, CEO of the Amelia Island Trails, asked the board to support a trail program to connect the south end of Amelia Island with downtown Fernandina Beach. He called for a modification of a funding request to the state Department of Transportation for roadway improvements and a trail category in the county’s five-year plan for capital improvement projects, starting in 2019. The move, he said, would help the community qualify for federal and state grants.

In a presentation, Mr. Scanlan asked for $50,000 from each of the county’s five districts.

“We need a funded plan,” he said.

Mr. Scanlan said there is strong competition for grant funding and he is working with representatives on a Cumberland Island, Georgia to Timucuan trail – with Amelia Island in the middle. “There’s no reason we can’t do that without getting in a car,” he said. “We want to connect to those trails.”

Mr. Scanlan said he has already met with Timucuan trail officials and has plans to meet with officials in Georgia about Cumberland Island connections in March. He said the City of Fernandina Beach may help provide money for private boat service to Cumberland from the downtown marina.

Commission Chair Pat Edwards asked staff members to research ways to accommodate the request. Commissioner Danny Leeper, who is the board’s liaison to state transportation planning agency, said, “Certainly your plan is worthy of merit…It comes down to funding.”

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Hurricane Costs Drain Rainy Day Fund Budget Director Justin Stankiewicz, who is also the assistant county manager, said the county is still processing invoices from Hurricane Irma last year and costs for extensive debris pick-up have reached $4 million. He said that has “wiped out” the county’s “rainy day” fund. According to Mr. Stankiewicz, the county costs for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 was $2.3 million. A detail report is planned for an upcoming meeting, he said.

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The board was asked to support two fundraisers Art Nassau will hold its ‘celebrity’ fundraiser with elected government officials on March 22-23. The American Cancer Society (West Nassau chapter) will hold its ‘Relay for Life’ fundraiser April 6-7 at the Callahan Fairgrounds.

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