Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Timeless Putnam Land Feels Future Stirring; Some See the Proposed Mariposa Development as a Boon for the County, Others Fear the Mega Project

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Timeless Putnam Land Feels Future Stirring; Some See the Proposed Mariposa Development as a Boon for the County, Others Fear the Mega Project

Article excerpt

Byline: ANNE MARIE APOLLO

EAST PALATKA -- Out a road called Cracker Swamp, tree limbs that reach over a length of still, brown canal are just as likely to sway from the pressure of a combine as a passing pickup truck.

Remote even by Putnam County standards, there are still parts of old Florida there, with farmers out early atop tractors and children spending the summer on wide wooden porches.

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But in a place where it seems as though almost nothing has changed any time recently, a development unlike anything Putnam County has seen before is on the way.

Hailed by some as the county's future and others as a desecration of its past, Mariposa would put 3,230 houses as well as hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, office and business park space on 2,025 acres, nearly half of which would be held for conservation.

If the development continues to get the nod, it could have its first round of needed permits by the end of the summer, with building reaching past 2020.

It has been the target of criticism from its neighbors -- ranging from family farmers who maintain the development will "tear the heart out of" the region's agriculture to a St. Johns county commissioner who said he believes negative impact from the growth will overspill Putnam County's borders.

In the wake of a development order unanimously approved by the Putnam County Commission last month -- the most recent in a long list of reviews from local and state agencies it will undergo -- Mariposa's backers said the project will mean education, not only in the expected elementary and middle school buildings but through possible college satellite campuses.

Along with the development would come water and sewer services for eastern Putnam County, medical parks and a possible hospital, they said.

Joey Kelly, director of external relations for Delray Beach-based Ascot Development, said the land development company chose Putnam County in part because the houses could make a significant positive impact. Mariposa would bring jobs, diversify the region's housing stock and once built out could net the county more than $11 million annually in property taxes, she said.

"We understand fear of change, but we think this brings value" to the greater community, she said.

County Commission Chairman Brad Purcell knows not everyone is happy with Mariposa.

At the same meeting at which the commission approved the development order, nearly 100 people spoke about the project, the bulk of them against it.

Many fear the development is the first step in the urbanization of eastern Putnam County, something Purcell said is not true.

Not every developer who comes to Putnam County is going to get the green light, he said.

"We have learned from the development patterns of our region," Purcell said. …

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