Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Developing Dilemma Growth Management Controls Not Clear

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Developing Dilemma Growth Management Controls Not Clear

Article excerpt

A plan to build a 12,000-person community in Jacksonville on land coveted by conservationists is testing a commitment City Hall made years ago to protect the ecology of unique undeveloped properties.

The community, a complex of homes, offices and shops called Bartram Park, would be built on 4,700 acres that include the Julington-Durbin Creek peninsula in Mandarin.

The city pledged to control development on the peninsula in 1990. The scale of development proposed now, including apartment buildings, hotels, and a 4.1 millionsquare-foot office complex, quickly raised questions.

"I thought that the Bartram project would be very difficult to permit [for development]," Mayor John Delaney said.

Delaney wouldn't say whether he supports the Bartram Park proposal or not. But he said the city plans to stick by commitments it made to protect the environment.

The state, with help from the city and the St. Johns River Water Management District, has tried in the past to buy 1,200 acres of the peninsula's land for a state preserve. But the asking price was too high and the Florida Conservation and Recreation Land program subsequently moved the project down on its priority list.

The peninsula is the largest piece of undeveloped waterfront in Mandarin, and contains hundreds of acres of wetlands.

It is one of five places the city has declared special management areas, properties so environmentally important there are supposed to be special regulations controlling development.

The management areas were designated as part of a comprehensive growth management plan written into the city's laws nine years ago. In addition, directions were written five years ago about the type of development that should be allowed, and its density.

Those directions would make much of the Bartram Park plan unworkable by severely limiting the number of homes that could be allowed. If followed strictly, the rules would likely cut the combined maximum number of homes and apartments allowed in the management area by more than half. The 1994 recommendations would have limited development in most uplands within the management area to one home per 2 1/2 acres, and less in wetlands.

But the directions were never adopted into law. Instead, the City Council approved them through a resolution that isn't binding.

Now, developers working as Bartram Park Ltd. are asking the city to accept a different set of rules that would conserve riverfront wetlands but allow the development to go ahead as proposed. Doing that would waive the density rules recommended five years ago, and allow commercial and multi-family uses the management plan didn't address.

The firm, headed by Queen's Harbour Yacht and Country Club President J. Thomas Dodson Jr., proposed setting aside about 2,400 acres -- large parts of it wetlands -- for conservation. To protect wetlands on the shore, the developers would also guarantee there would be no docks or waterfront buildings.

T.R. Hainline, an attorney representing Bartram Park, said the 1994 directions were intended as interim rules until the city developed detailed plans for each management area.

He said the directions were "generic," applying essentially the same provisions to all the management areas.

This is the first time the city has had to decide how stringently to control building in a management area.

The question was raised when homes were built several years ago near another management area -- Cedar Swamp in the Southside -- but the developer argued his project was outside a wetlands line that served as the area boundary. …

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