Ban on Wetlands Commercial Development Remains Issue

Article excerpt

A conflict between the state and Clay County over a ban on

commercial development of wetlands has ended for now. But the

fight could resume next year.

County officials want to relax a restriction on non-residential

development of wetlands, which is prohibited in the 2001

Comprehensive Plan, while state authorities want to continue the

ban.

"It's too restrictive," said Planning Director Susan Fraser.

"We wanted to be more reasonable."

According to the St. Johns River Water Management District,

wetlands cover nearly 18 percent of Clay County. Roughly 72,800

acres of wetlands, all of which are designated for conservation,

are scattered throughout the county, including nearly 10,000

acres on military property.

In March 1995, the County Commission approved an amendment to

the comprehensive plan to loosen the restriction on wetlands

development. Two months later, the Department of Community

Affairs blocked the amendment.

The state's land-planning agency sent then-Commission Chairman

Pat McGovern a letter on May 23, 1995, advising him the proposed

amendment would not be acceptable.

The issue later was scheduled for a full review by the Division

of Administrative Hearings, which is a quasi-judicial

proceeding. However, the administrative procedure was aborted by

the County Commission Nov. 12.

The commissioners decided to give the DCA and the St. Johns

River Water Management District additional time to try to

resolve the dispute.

"This would settle a dispute between the county and the

Department of Community Affairs," County Attorney Mark Scruby

told commissioners. "The gist of this agreement is that

everybody is going back to square one."

But the agreement does not preclude the county from readopting

a new amendment to the comprehensive plan "at a later date," and

litigating the issue in court if no satisfactory resolution is

reached with the state, Scruby said.

"We can put this right back on the table and force the issue,"

he said.

The issue was the subject of a public hearing Nov. 12 before

the County Commission, but it attracted no comments from the

audience. The original ordinance also went by virtually

unnoticed by the public. …