Mitigation before expansion into western Nassau

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Western Nassau may soon experience additional building activity.   New housing developments are already underway or scheduled for Yulee and west of I-95. Tributary is a planned mixed-use development that will  deliver 3,200 dwellings, as well as office, commercial and recreational space...

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  • A planned mixed-use development will soon move into western Nassau County.
    A planned mixed-use development will soon move into western Nassau County.
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Western Nassau may soon experience additional building activity.  

New housing developments are already underway or scheduled for Yulee and west of I-95. Tributary is a planned mixed-use development that will  deliver 3,200 dwellings, as well as office, commercial and recreational space included. Despite encroaching growth stretching toward the West Side, Nassau County Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity Planner II Sue Ann Alleger said the area still has buildable space. 

“We are certainly not close to exhausting our land as areas such as Miami are,” she wrote via email. “If we look at a 25-year timeframe or so, I don’t think that is the case based on flood risk. Although we must be aware of keeping development out of the higher-risk areas.”

Nassau County Stormwater Engineer Katie Peay said that county’s current density is around 127 people per square mile.

“In perspective, Duval has 1,231 (people per square mile),” she wrote via email. “I believe the county’s main concern is having maintained infrastructure in place for the growth.”

If a developer trips a threshold that requires a permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District, the developer must file an application and attend a pre-application meeting to present the project to the entity. 

“The developer would also be required to propose a mitigation plan that would offset any possible impacts,” according to SJRWMD Bureau Chief of Environmental Resource Regulation Michelle Reiber. 

She and Environmental Resource Program Manager Marc von Canal are part of the group that reviews, approves and follows up on permits that are issued within the SJRWMD. 

“Subdivisions and commercial projects require as-builts to be signed off on by the design engineer and the county,” Peay noted. “The county’s (construction and engineering inspectors) review these projects throughout the build out. For builders, individual lots have firm board requirements and onsite reviews when concerns arise. The updated stormwater ordinance will require an additional check of the lot-grading plan prior to the building permit being issued. It will also require as-builts for certain development and redevelopment of lots on Amelia Island. The individual lot requirements should go into effect April 1.”

If a project has the potential to impact wetlands, developers could “propose to preserve other wetlands on that property so they could impact some and preserve other areas through a conservation easement,” Reiber said. “Sometimes people will do enhancement of wetland areas that have been degraded previously. They can also purchase mitigation bank credits. And in some cases, they’ll do offsite preservation of property.” 

Mitigation bank credits are earned when a developer pays for ecological enhancements that benefit a property. 

The SJRWMD then deducts the credits from a ledger that a mitigation banker has to account for the impact that’s proposed, according to Reiber. Anytime a project has impacts on wetlands, the group analyzes the project before a permit is issued. 

When properties need mitigation, the developer isn’t required to stay within the same county where said development occurs. 

The bureau looks at ecological boundaries instead of political or county boundaries because some drainage basins are ecologically connected and/or ecologically equivalent. So if a developer affects 20 acres, the same amount of land must be provided in the mitigation exchange, but not necessarily in the same county. 

The SJRWMD serves 18 counties, including Nassau, Duval and Baker counties, extending into Indian River County and parts of Central Florida. The entity issues about 3,000 permits annually throughout the state for new and existing projects such as commercial and residential development both large and small. Road projects are also included. 

“Many of those are not new projects,” von Canal said. “Many of those permits that we issue are actually modifications to existing developments.” Although the SJRWMD doesn’t have the exact number of available buildable acres in Nassau, sites are analyzed. Aerial photographs and digital data allow officials to look at each project. 

According to Peay, the 2008 Stormwater Master Plan, which was updated in 2012, shows that about 31 percent of Nassau County is wetlands, which comprises 129,037 acres. Nassau County consists of 423,596 acres. 

The bureau also reviews how a development may affect water quantity, water quality and wetlands, so applicants must solve issues that adversely affect the criteria to receive a permit. 

“When we issue a permit, we have a number of permit conditions that are designed to require the property owner, developer, permittee to comply with the plans that we’ve approved and all of the different site aspects that are part of that plan,” Reiber said. “And so, we have a legal right to require them to abide by the permit. That’s the purpose of the permit, is to set forth the conditions under which they can develop the property.”

A compliance team reviews the site as it is under construction. Once the project is complete, the permit holder is required to submit an “as-built certification,” according to Reiber.

“An engineer will certify that the system has been constructed according to the plan,” she said. “And then, if you have mitigation, then we require monitoring reports to make sure the mitigation area is functioning as intended. And we will go out periodically, generally at least on an annual basis to take a look at those areas to make sure that they’re also in accordance with what we’ve approved under the permit.” 

In situations where the developer is not in compliance or something unforeseen happens, the group can assist the developer as needed informally. When necessary, the SJRWMD may issue monetary fines for any deficiencies that aren’t corrected. 

“That’s something we do evaluate through the permitting process, so when we issue the permit, then we’re confident that the project is going to comply with the criteria that we have,” Reiber said.

Climate change and sea level rise could affect future developments. 

“I think that’s something that’s being addressed on a statewide level,” Reiber said. “We’re aware of that and it’s a consideration. And that’s something that, down the road, if there needs to be some rule revisions in order to accommodate the changes that are occurring, that may be something that the state as a whole may decide to
do.”

County planners are also keeping an eye on sea level rise, according to Alleger. 

“Our most recent update to the comprehensive plan includes the Peril of Flood statute requirements,” she wrote. “Sea level rise as one of the causes of flood risk that must be addressed. Other requirements include more comprehensively addressing of flood risk overall. All our planning initiatives now take flooding, (sea level rise), wildfire, extreme heat and habitat destruction, etc., into account.”

kcolgrove@nassaucountyrecord.com