Raydient wins a round in lawsuit against county

  • The sign at the entrance to the Wildlight development in Yulee. FILE PHOTO
    The sign at the entrance to the Wildlight development in Yulee. FILE PHOTO

Raydient Places + Properties LLC and the related companies developing the Wildlight community, and the East Nassau Stewardship District, which governs the 24,000-acre area, received some support from Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge James H. Daniel last week when Daniel issued a partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on one count in just one of the lawsuits pending against Nassau County.

The lawsuit by Raydient Places + Properties LLC, et al., filed in November 2018, asserts that the county’s Municipal Service Taxing Unit designation for the East Nassau Community Planning Area is a “thinly veiled” retaliatory action in the guise of an unnecessary tax related to unresolved grievances between the county, Raydient, and Rayonier.

Raydient maintains their only obligation to the county within the development is donation of land for recreational facilities, while the county has asserted that funding for construction of parks in the East Nassau Community Planning Area, a state-approved Sector Plan adopted in July 2011, was to be shared by the county and the developer through an interlocal agreement to be worked out through the East Nassau Stewardship District. The ENSD was named as an intervenor-plaintiff in the case.

A link to information about the ENCPA can be found at http://bit.ly/2khsaae.

A 2019 resolution of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners addressing the lawsuit says, in part, that Raydient “seeks declaratory relief that Chapter 2017-206, Laws of Florida, creating the East Nassau Stewardship District...does not obligate either the Stewardship District or the Raydient Plaintiffs to fund the construction of public facilities within the ENCPA.”

Daniel’s order on Count VI says that during the creation of the ENCPA master plan, Raydient first donated 700 acres for use as parks and later “committed to donating up to 12,000 acres to establish a Conservation Habitat Network (CHN) consisting of protected wetlands and wildlife habitat.”

Daniel wrote that the issue he reviewed in advance of his June 10 order “is strictly one of statutory interpretation,” and his partial summary judgment is “(not) intended to impact the ENCPA Recreational Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) or the remaining claims in Counts I through V of the Complaint.”

Referencing HB 1075, which established the East Nassau Stewardship District, Daniel wrote, “The East Nassau Stewardship District has the discretionary power to finance, construct, and maintain public parks and recreational facilities within its geographic boundaries as its Board of Supervisors deems appropriate, but is not required to exercise its special powers to meet the required levels of service under Nassau County’s Comprehensive Plan. The obligation to comply with levels of service for parks and recreational facilities under the Comprehensive Plan remains with the county and the (Board of County Commissioners).

“Nassau County’s obligation to finance, construct, and maintain public parks and recreational facilities extends only to ‘community and regional parks’ as they are defined under the Comprehensive Plan.”

HB 1075 was signed into law in June 2017 by then-governor Rick Scott, making the ENSD a state-chartered political subdivision to govern the East Nassau Community Planning Area via a five-member board. Four of the five board members are employees of Rayonier. The plaintiffs used “county regulations” as the basis for their argument in the lawsuit while the county cited language in HB 1075 as the basis for their expectations.

The ENSD is supposed to coordinate with the county on public and private funding for the amenities within Wildlight, the community being developed there. That process was to include the establishment of interlocal agreements on funding for public roads, water, sewer, and parks and recreational facilities in the new development, according to previous reports.

Asked for comment, Alejandro Barbero, Rayonier’s director of strategic development and communications, said, “We still have a number of cases before the court and it would not be prudent for us to editorialize at this time.”