St. Johns County Commissioners deny intermodal exchange project

The five-member board voted unanimously not to advance the comprehensive plan amendment for facility with potentially hundreds of jobs.

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The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 17 to deny the transmittal of a comprehensive land amendment to create the proposed Colonial Hinman Intermodal Exchange Facility.

After hours of presentations and public comment opposing and supporting the project, the five-member commission decided that sending the amendment for state review was unproductive.

The state would have reviewed the amendment and returned it to the county to take further action on the project.

“I do not see a project that could be built … that would meet approvals,” said Commissioner Henry Dean.

Dean said he considered it to be a good project for economic development, but he found issues with compatibility with the neighborhoods and infrastructure.

St. Johns County has been reviewing a large-scale comprehensive plan amendment (2022-05) and rezoning (2022-18) for the project, shortened to CHIEF. 

It is a 214.13-acre development that would comprise at least 850,000 square feet of warehouse space and a 50,000-square-foot intermodal terminal.

The project site is on the south side of County Road 214 between Interstate 95 and Holmes Boulevard. A plan shows the building as 892,296 square feet on 215.79 acres. No tenant is identified.

The comprehensive plan amendment would have changed the future land use map designation from Residential-B to Industrial with a text amendment prohibiting heavy industrial uses.

Dean said he drove the area and cited two-lane narrow roads. He said there no plans or permits to expand the roads to four lanes.

“I am most concerned about safety,” he said.

Commission Vice Chair Sarah Arnold questioned the wages that would be paid in light of the issues of housing affordability in St. Johns County.

She and other commissioners agreed with Dean.

“I just can’t get my head around the location,” she said. “It is incompatible.”

Dean, Arnold, Commission Chair Christian Whitehurst and Commissioners Krista Joseph and Roy Alaimo said the project did not fit with the neighboring residential developments after hearing public speakers cite the increased truck traffic on two-lane roads, the noise and reverberations of the trucks and the railroad, the lack of a connection with Interstate 95, and environmental concerns.

Supporters cited job creation, the strength of the trucking and logistics industry and the addition of light industrial positions vs. the county’s lower-wage tourism employment.

It was the project’s second denial this year.

The St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Board deadlocked 2-2 on Jan. 5 in a decision whether to recommend advancing the proposed project for state review.

The vote became a recommendation of denial to the Board of County Commissioners.

Neither board took up the companion request to rezone the property from open rural to industrial warehousing.

Procedurally, after a comprehensive plan amendment is sent to the state, reviewed and returned, a local government will then take final action by adopting it and voting on the rezoning.

James Whitehouse of St. Johns Law Group in St. Augustine represents property owner Quarter Cav LLC, led by Dr. Roy Hinman II of St. Augustine.

A Sept. 12, 2022, Economic Impact Analysis was prepared for Dr. Roy H. Hinman II and Bryan Greiner of Augustine Development Group.

It refers to the intermodal exchange facility as a master-planned industrial project of about 238 acres to be developed as a combination of flex, industrial and logistical space of about 900,000 square feet and a 10-year horizon for development.

The analysis, by Fishkind Litigation Services Inc. of Orlando, says the project will employ 1,817 people when fully built-out.

The owner initially requested rezoning the property from Open Rural to Heavy Industrial to allow for a proposed intermodal distribution facility, but a Nov. 18, 2022, application attachment amends that to add a condition that no heavy industrial is allowed. 

It says the request is for light industrial and that all proposed light industrial uses are several football fields’ distance from any border of the property. 

The attachment also says the proposed facility and uses will be located on the property on County Road 214 with direct access to the Florida East Coast Railway system, which will “create and promote multi-modal transportation opportunities while buffering itself from surrounding uses.”