Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A City Losing Count Some Build, but Impacts Not Factored

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A City Losing Count Some Build, but Impacts Not Factored

Article excerpt

With office complexes, apartments and shopping all under

development, Deerwood Park is one of the fastest-growing places

in Jacksonville.

But when city planners predict where new traffic will come

from, they aren't counting the growth that's happening there.

They aren't counting new companies moving into Jacksonville

International Tradeport, either. Nor several hundred houses

planned on Hodges Boulevard. Nor a car dealership the size of a

shopping center near Southpoint.

It's a deliberate choice.

At a time when neighborhoods are demanding that new traffic

from growth be managed better, the city has excluded many of

Jacksonville's largest new developments from its traffic plans.

Doing that is keeping city officials from realizing how busy

some roads are becoming.

So far this year, builders have started construction on about

four times as many houses as planners have counted and permitted

for development.

By not counting some projects, the city also might have been

able to permit new construction in areas where projects might

otherwise be denied.

To people concerned about the possibility of overbuilding, that

sounds like a bad idea.

"You're just going to add to the headache of the residents in

those areas. It's not logical," said Jim Foley, whose home in

the Jacksonville Golf and Country Club is in an area strained by

fast development.

Just down Hodges Boulevard from his home, off a road that earns

an F in the city's A-to-F traffic grades, about 600 houses in

the Windsor Parke development are slated for construction but

aren't being counted in the city's transportation plans.

"It's important that you count all the traffic . . .," Foley

said. "Eventually, you're going to crush development with

traffic."

A GUARANTEE TO BUILD

State and local laws require the city to test how new

development will affect demand for government services such as

roads, parks and drainage.

That test is the backbone of Jacksonville's growth management

process. It's supposed to keep public facilities from suddenly

being overwhelmed by crowds of new residents.

However, some properties were guaranteed development rights

before the growth management laws passed. Those are called

vested developments because they're said to have legally vested

rights.

The city legally can't refuse permits for those developments.

And in those cases, city planners don't add the projects to

their traffic plans, either.

"I don't see how you could do that," said Terrell Arline, legal

director of 1000 Friends of Florida, a watchdog group on

development issues.

"Planning 101, right? . . . You have an obligation in the

planning process to count them and provide roads and schools and

police and fire and rescue."

The same projects escape testing for other city services, such

as parks and garbage disposal, too. However, developments almost

never fail any tests other than traffic.

City officials generally haven't considered the uncounted

projects to be a problem. They acknowledge that a past breakdown

in traffic monitoring kept vested growth's impact from being

recognized, but they say that problem has been largely resolved.

Once vested developments are built, Planning Director Jeannie

Fewell said, cars traveling to them are supposed to show up as

"background traffic" in annual traffic counts that city planners

rely heavily upon.

In some areas, though, the city's traffic counts are as much as

three years old and don't reflect anything like current

conditions. …

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