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News Bites: St. Johns County Development; Inspiring High School Grads; Water Playground Kerfuffle

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ST. AUGUSTINE RECORD 

Year after year after year, Florida retains a consistent top billing among the states with fastest population growth, as people from around the county—and indeed, the world—flock here for our moist heat, low taxes and delicious foods. And we are, by and large, happy to have them, but it's always a challenge to balance that growth against the needs of the existing community. What does the existing community need? Less growth, apparently. Good luck with that.

In the June 3 St. Augustine Record, Stuart Korfhage runs down a list of developments with names like SilverLeaf, Beachwalk, Beacon Lake, Shearwater, Rivertown and (my favorite) Creekside at Twin Creeks, which together are adding over 20,000 new homes. He writes, "With such staggering numbers in a county that has already added more than 50,000 residents since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it's hard to imagine that the market can bear so much new activity." Well, maybe not that hard.

Factors working in their favor, according to Korfhage, include St. Johns' excellent school system and the tumescent job growth (some 20 percent over the past five years) in the Jacksonville area. Negative factors include school capacity, as well as traffic, not to mention traffic. Plans are being made to maybe add toll lanes (always popular) to I-95, in addition to the extension to State Road 9B and the First Coast Expressway. This means that the very nature of St. Johns County is changing, and maybe for the better.

FLORIDA TIMES-UNION

Right now, all across Northeast Florida, thousands and thousands of teenagers either already have or are getting ready to walk the aisle, style and profile and take that leap into adulthood as they graduate from high school. Their tales are being told in the local papers, which are always keen to tell uplifting stories, and the Florida Times-Union's Beth Reese Cravey told perhaps the most uplifting of all on May 30 as the inaugural EVAC class crossed the finish line after a journey that has captured the hearts of an entire city. Led by Amy Donofrio, one of the city's legit heroes, 10 boys and three girls have overcome countless obstacles to become role models in their own right. They've traveled the country, met high-level dignitaries, and shattered the stereotypes affixed to urban youth, to the point that plans to de-fund the program were quickly scuttled after community outcry. This means that a whole new class of EVAC kids will be starting up this August, with very big shoes to fill.

ST. AUGUSTINE RECORD

Summer is officially here, and that means our famous beaches are officially in-play. While everybody's frantically sweating to lose those last few inches and ounces, striving for peak form in time for Swimsuit Season, the beaches themselves are sweating apace. Case in point: St. Augustine Beach, where a debate is raging over the new Embassy Suites, slated to open on A1A Beach Boulevard any day now. In the June 1 St. Augustine Record, reporter Sheldon Gardner detailed an imbroglio percolating in the halls of the City Commission, which is tasked with deciding whether or not to allow some $600,000 worth of "water playground equipment." The proposal was already rejected by the city's Comprehensive Planning and Zoning Board because, like any good Speedo salesman will tell you, size matters.

"In a memo to the board," writes Gardner, "Building Official Brian Law ... recommended the park be allowed because the overall height of the equipment will be less than 35 feet—a height limit for buildings in the city—and it meets city setback requirements." Well, that seems alright, but nope: "The equipment itself will be, at its tallest point, about 28.5 feet tall. But it appeared the equipment would actually stretch over 40 feet tall because it would be built starting at a higher elevation because of flood regulations." Planning Board Chair Jane West raised objections on the grounds that the "peaceful resort setting" described in the plans is inconsistent with a park filled with children who will certainly be wet, and also presumably wild.

The original plan was approved in 2015, but the height issues have remained influx throughout, and the commission is being pressed to resolve this once and for all. "I really want you to stick with what was originally proposed and not tackify our beach," pleaded West. But whether they tackify or do not tackify remains unclear, as the relative tackification of any development is always a delicate matter. More to come.

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