“Bill Expanding Access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor Signed Into Law”

“Bill Expanding Access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor Signed Into Law”

Photo: Trail Camera in Wildlife Corridor

“TA bill expanding access to Florida’s Wildlife Corridor, was signed into law Tuesday by Governor DeSantis. Senate Bill 106, the Florida Shared-Use Nonmotorized Trail Network, was introduced by Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford).

The new law connects the corridor to Florida’s Greenways and Trails System and the SUN Trail Network, as well as recreational pathways to heritage small towns across Florida. Passage of the measure was a top priority for Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples),

‘Our wildlife corridor provides a unique opportunity to experience the wonder and beauty of Florida’s heartland. With this legislation we have the chance not only to preserve this natural resource for future generations, but to expand access so more Floridians can walk, run, and bike from trail town to trail town, taking in all our great state has to offer,’ said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) ‘I envision Florida’s Wildlife Corridor as a top destination for recreational tourists from across the country and around the world. As I have said before, I believe this will be Florida’s Central Park – a legacy we can be proud to leave for future generations of Floridians and visitors to enjoy…’

Florida’s Wildlife Corridor encompasses approximately 17.7 million acres, including almost 10 million acres of conservation lands. The corridor is being created through the state’s purchase of development rights of farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who will be able to continue their operations in perpetuity and the lands will never be developed. From 2020-2022, under the leadership of Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, former Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), the Legislature appropriated $600 million in funding available to expand the Wildlife Corridor…”


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“North Florida Land Trust acquisition of Tiger Island moves forward slowly”

“North Florida Land Trust acquisition of Tiger Island moves forward slowly”

Map: from Fernandina Observer

‘Tiger Island has no zoning. Consequently, the County Planning Department is proposing that it be zoned Open Rural (OR). By doing so, North Florida Land Trust will be able to get it appraised and finally conserve it.

Tiger Island – a 981-acre parcel located in the middle of the Amelia and St. Mary’s Rivers, has been on the watch list for the acquisition and protection of countless conservation organizations for years. Well over seven years at the very least, said a spokesperson for one conservation organization.

Why does this parcel rank so high on a most wanted list? Because Tiger Island is a barrier island . . . just like Cumberland Island and Amelia Island –and Tiger Island is one of the southernmost sea islands in the area. As such, these ‘sea islands’ help to protect surrounding areas from erosion, flooding and storm surge. Not to mention the fact that they provide and protect the habitats of so very many species – including manatees, gopher tortoises, sturgeon and countless birds.

In December of 2021, the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) heralded news that it and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had been awarded a $1 million grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program to preserve the salt marsh and maritime forest that is Tiger Island.

The ultimate goal is to have Tiger Island become part of Fort Clinch State Park with ongoing maintenance and management provided by Fort Clinch’s parent organization—the State of Florida’s Division of Recreation and Parks.

Getting any parcel of land protected is no easy job. To quote Jim McCarthy, President of the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT), ‘conservation moves at glacier speed,’ . . . and when he said it, he noted that he was taking a bit of poetic license from a developer he knew some time ago who was talking about his own line of business.

To get any particular piece of land protected, it takes a lot of coordination, cooperation, collaboration . . . and of course, community support. Here is an outline of some of the essential elements and how they relate to Tiger Island.

#1 A WILLING SELLER Many years ago, the owners of Tiger Island may have envisioned developing the acreage for housing or hotels . . . but not anymore. During a recent phone conversation with the NFLT, the owners have committed themselves to preservation. In fact, there is already a signed contract that basically ‘seals the deal’ which will preserve in perpetuity, this island paradise.

#2 A CRITICAL MASS OF INDIVIDUALS/ORGANIZATIONS DEDICATED TO THE CAUSE In addition to the main funding sources already mentioned, the Forever Florida program has promised a matching $1 million grant.

#3 PRIVATE SUPPORT In addition to support at the federal, state and local levels, add to that list is an anonymous donor who has pledged to provide any additional funds necessary to complete the purchase and get the conservation program well underway – connecting a network of protected lands and waterways along the Florida-Georgia line.

There’s just one (or two) last hurdle(s).

It seems Tiger Island has never been zoned – despite Florida law which requires that every acre of land in the State be zoned.

Some say the omission of Tiger Island was a mere ‘Scrivener’s Error’ when Florida went ‘digital.’

Regardless, Tiger Island now needs to be zoned and that step in the process cannot be ‘skipped’ because an actual zone classification is needed so that the land can be appraised…'”

— Cindy Jackson, Fernandina Observer

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Affordable housing/density: “Council discusses accessory dwellings, zoning changes to increase housing”

Affordable housing/density: “Council discusses accessory dwellings, zoning changes to increase housing”

Photo: In Catalyst

“As the debate rages on how best to address the housing crisis in St. Petersburg, city officials continue to explore every avenue for relief with a sense of urgency.

During Thursday’s Committee of the Whole (COW) Meeting, members of the city council heard an expansive presentation on how increasing accessory dwelling units (ADU), changing zoning regulations and increasing density along major corridors could help the housing problem gripping the region. The presentation is part of the St. Pete 2050 Plan and encompasses information gleaned from an extensive series of stakeholder meetings that began in May 2021.

Liz Abernethy, director of planning and development for the city, led the presentation for the committee. She said she had the pleasure of attending Tuesday’s St. Petersburg Development summit, and some of Mayor Ken Welch’s remarks on how the city will manage its explosive [growth] resonated with her.

‘He talked about protecting and preserving our authenticity, and that really struck a note with me,’ Abernethy said.

Abernethy said the city currently receives about 60 ADU permits per year, and outlined city code amendments that could increase that number. Those include removing the requirement for paved parking spaces and allowing gravel, deleting the 50% floor area restriction for two-story buildings, and allowing single-family ADUs in multifamily districts, which Abernethy called an oversight and contradictory.

Abernethy also proposed increasing the maximum unit size from 750 square feet to 800 square feet or 35% of the total floor area, excluding garages.

Abernethy explained that areas zoned as NT-3 (neighborhood traditional) do not allow new ADUs, although NT-3 areas are home to many existing ADUs. Many of these neighborhoods are on the far east and west sides of the city, and Abernethy said residents of Historic Old Northeast voiced concerns regarding additional ADUs. The reservations are due to potential parking congestion and increased stormwater intrusion.

‘That is a neighborhood where there are many now that were there historically,’ she said. ‘This ability to have a new accessory dwelling unit in that neighborhood that does have the alleys seems consistent with the character of that neighborhood.’

While just 3,495 NT-3 parcels would qualify for ADUs, that number jumps to 35,506 in areas zoned as neighborhood suburban (NS). NS neighborhoods comprise wide swaths of the north, south, and west sides of St. Pete. Holiday Park recently expressed the same concerns as Old Northeast, with the additional worry that ADUs would change the neighborhood’s character…

The committee approved several amendments to the city’s ADU regulations while disregarding several others in a split vote. There was a heavy debate on specific details and hesitation for the universal language in Gabbard’s motion to move the proposal forward…”

— Mark Parker, St Pete Catalyst

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Master Planning: Why a city needs one to protect Florida’s scenic waterfronts

…”Jacksonville has long approached downtown development in a secretive and piecemeal fashion, and over the last few weeks this has resulted in several different groups offering up competing plans for parts of the city center.

It’s time for Jacksonville to create something many cities with successfully revived Downtowns have done: create a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted Downtown master plan.

What would a Downtown master plan do?

The City of St. Petersburg, through the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, envisions a continued legacy of preserved and enhanced open space that is inclusive and offers opportunities for all.

Essentially, a Downtown master plan is simply a long-term guide for future planning and development. Very many cities have master plans for their downtowns, from Atlanta, Georgia to Erie, Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. One of Jacksonville’s peer cities, Oklahoma City, has seen a tremendous impact from its elaborate plans, both inside and outside Downtown.

Common elements of master plans include:

– Defining public, semiprivate, and private amenities Downtown
– Laying out the concrete, longterm vision for key public sites and amenities
– Determining areas to cluster complementing uses in a compact setting
– Identifying primary streets (high traffic commercial corridors) versus secondary or service streets
– Identifying locations and timelines for public amenities that may spark private development
– Creating an implementation schedule for moving development phases forward.
– Community outreach and engagement to ensure the stated vision matches the vision of citizens.

A master plan should not dictate what takes place on private property; instead it should focus on public amenities and making sure land use policies and zoning are set up so that private owners can achieve their property’s fullest potential. In general, a Downtown master plan allows a city to guide development over time, instead of just putting a library here and a museum there like a SimCity player who just got the game and hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.

Why don’t we have one?

A rendering from the Downtown Savannah 2033 Master Plan

According to the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), we do. They have referred to the Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Plan released in 2015 as the city’s “Downtown master plan”. As DIA CEO Lori Boyer told the Jacksonville Daily Record in February 2021, “In recent months we have repeatedly heard from members of the public and in the media that there is no master plan for Downtown and we are simply looking at projects piecemeal… In fact there is.”

The Jaxson argues that the 2015 CRA Plan is not a true master plan. Or at least if is, it’s a bad one. The CRA Plan is a decent start with a lot of positive features, but just doesn’t have many elements that absolutely should be in any true, effective, comprehensive master plan. For example, a master plan should show the community’s intention and vision for publicly owned properties. If Downtown Jacksonville is going to have a new convention center, the master plan should specify the site, how it will be funded and the timeline for its construction. If Amtrak and passenger rail is going to return to the Prime Osborn, the master plan should estimate when it will happen and how much it will cost so that those developing nearby blocks can coordinate their efforts. The CRA plan doesn’t do this.

The DIA has contracted consulting firm GAI (no relation) to draft a broader plan for Downtown to be released later this year, which is apparently an update to the 2015 CRA Plan. It’s not clear what it will include, but some signs are encouraging; for instance it will encourage more sidewalk dining and restaurants. Other signs are… less encouraging. For example, one significant element of the plan is rebranding effort for Downtown neighborhoods. The city got an early taste of how that’s going recently when DIA released their survey proposing, among other things, to rename Downtown’s Northbank and Southbank with goofy marketing-speak names, “NoCo” and “SoBa.” Jaxsons on social media gave that one a fat No-Go.

But whatever this plan includes, if it doesn’t include, for instance, the longterm vision for key catalytic public sites, including along LaVilla’s long overlooked historic Broad Street corridor, we are in fact looking at projects piecemeal. That means Downtown will remain in the dark when it comes to leveraging the private sector, gaining public support and encouraging certain types of uses in key locations. In other words, it’s still not a true master plan.

Jacksonville’s past experience with plans

A sketch of the 1971 Downtown Master Plan

Jacksonville is no stranger to plans of various kinds. The city adopted a Downtown master plan in 1971, though it didn’t follow up on most of the recommendations, and the piecemeal approach it took just made the situation worse. In 1987, this was followed by the Downtown initial action plan. In the plan, KBJ Architects noted that “All too often plans for downtown are just that. They ignore the political, financial or market realities of downtown and end up on the shelf ignored.” You know where this is going: that plan also ended up on the shelf, largely ignored. In 2000, Mayor John Delaney sponsored Celebrating the River: A Plan for Downtown Jacksonville, with updates to the previous unrealized plans. His successor Mayor John Peyton embraced this plan, but then, nothing. It wasn’t followed and ended up on the shelf.

Other plans include the Mobility Plan and a forthcoming bike master plan, and numerous studies commissioned by various public and private entities. It’s totally reasonable for Jaxsons to be skeptical of another plan or study. But other cities’ experiences prove that a good master plan, when well designed and followed up upon really can have positive effects. It’s a matter of devising a good plan and then seeing it through over the years.

And anyway, the track record for not having or following a plan isn’t any better.

No plan means a whole lot of contradictory plans

Developer Steve Atkins’ $1.1 billion Riverfront Jacksonville Master Plan proposed for Jacksonville’s Northbank Riverfront

One result of the lack of a master plan for Downtown Jacksonville is that, as interest in redevelopment heats up, various groups have launched their own. In the last few months alone, Steve Atkins’ SouthEast Development Group, Shad Khan and the Jaguars, advocacy group Riverfront Parks Now, the Jacksonville chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund have all announced, completed or happen to be in the stage of working on various visions for parts of Downtown. And in addition to the DIA’s work on the updated CRA plan, the agency is also wrapping up a design competition for the future of Lenny’s Lawn – sorry, Riverfront Park – to replace the old Jacksonville Landing.

The problem with this is obvious. We now have an array of competing plans and visions that don’t jive with each other and are unlikely to match whatever DIA is working on. The DIA may not feel it’s looking at projects piecemeal, but everyone else certainly is. And that’s not their fault; they’re working without a publicly accessible master plan. This is the peril of not working with what you already have. Redevelopment becomes a lot easier, less time consuming and far more affordable when looking at the entire downtown area holistically, understanding what we can and can’t do with certain spaces and then coordinating adaptive reuse and infill projects within those parameters and guidelines. These are certain elements of a master planning process that the existing CRA plan largely lacked.

As we’ve argued before, the lack of a comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan continues to hold Downtown Jacksonville back. The city government has acquired a reputation for making big decisions behind closed doors and keeping the public out of the decision making. When decisions are made in bubbles like that, they don’t get vetted or exposed to other potential solutions and better ideas. And the citizens footing the bill don’t get a chance to say what they really want to see in their Downtown.

Where we go from here

A vision for Brevard Street in the draft version of Charlotte’s 2040 Center City Vision Plan

The DIA should take the opportunity provided by the CRA plan update to really get things right. They should make sure the plan includes elements from Downtown master plans in other cities that have successfully revitalized. In doing this, it’s absolutely crucial that they bring the public in before, not after, the plan is developed. It can’t be just a panel of preselected “stakeholders” or an online survey. Think about it this way: if there had been public input on the Downtown branding project, terrible names like “NoCo” and “SoBa” would have been shot down before being released in the wild only to be torn apart.

Let’s do the right thing here: let’s give Downtown Jacksonville the comprehensive, strategic, publicly vetted master plan we’ve always needed but never had – and stick to it.

Bill Delaney and Ennis Davis, AICP, Editorial in The Jaxson Mag
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“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

“$1.1 billion riverfront master plan proposed for downtown Jacksonville”

Photo: Gallery in Jacksonville Daily Record
“Jacksonville developer Steve Atkins says he wants to lead a nearly $1.1 billion redevelopment of mostly city-owned property, including the former Jacksonville Landing, on a stretch of the Downtown Northbank riverfront.

At an invitation-only event June 1 at the Florida Theatre, Atkins presented his ‘Riverfront Jacksonville’ redevelopment plan for about 25 acres along the St. Johns River.

Atkins, who is SouthEast Development Group LLC managing director, says he will try to persuade the city and Downtown Investment Authority to pay for $536 million in a public-private partnership to build 1.8 million square feet of space from the former Jacksonville Landing to the former Duval County Courthouse and old City Hall site, rebranded in 2020 by DIA as The Ford on Bay.

City buy-in

As of May 28, DIA staff and Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration have seen all of SouthEast’s master plan work, according to Atkins.

It is unclear if city officials are willing to accept Atkins’ request for about $500 million in tax money.

Atkins said Goldman Sachs and Piper Sandler together committed to financing the estimated $1.1 billion upfront if the city agrees to an incentives package to repay its share over time…

With all but 2.5 acres targeted as publicly owned, Atkins also would have to convince city officials to change or integrate taxpayer-backed development plans active on the riverfront…

The city also awarded nearly $375,000 in stipends to three national firms in March for a competition to design a 4.5-acre public park at the former Landing site with a selection expected in October.

The DIA and city have renamed the site Riverfront Plaza. DIA CEO Lori Boyer said a plan to put the remaining land on the market for private development after park construction is underway.

Atkins said SouthEast’s team recognizes the park competition but did not commit to keeping the design selected by the DIA should the city agree to work with him.

‘I’m hoping that some of the best (park) ideas are things that we might be able to collaborate with folks on in this plan,’ Atkins said…

Next steps

A spokesperson for Atkins said SouthEast said in a May 30 email the company plans to formally approach the DIA in July with a development proposal.”

— Mike Mendenhall, Jacksonville Daily Record
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For a gallery of renderings of Riverfront Jacksonville, click here

Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Land Preservation: “Pinellas County, City Of Dunedin In Lockstep On Douglas Hackworth Property”

Photo: Sierra Club
“…Pinellas County Government and City of Dunedin officials have announced new developments in the effort to acquire land in North County for environmental preservation and passive recreation.

‘We’re very pleased with the public and private funding commitments we’ve been able to garner thus far for the property, and look forward to working with the estate to preserve the property for future generations,’ said Pinellas County Administrator Barry A. Burton.

‘Our community believes acquisition of this property is an intergenerational imperative,’ said Dunedin City Manager Jennifer K. Bramley. ‘The City of Dunedin looks forward to working with our partners, both public and private, to place a strong offer before the estate.’

County and City officials also announced they will submit a joint application next week to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a Florida Communities Trust state grant. They hope that the grant, coupled with an ongoing community fundraising effort, would contribute toward the final acquisition and environmental restoration costs for the Douglas-Hackworth property…”

— Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Patch.com
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