Is $500,000 for land enough?

An advisory board will meet in April to discuss ways to preserve environmentally sensitive and recreational land in St. Johns County.

Preserving some natural open spaces while allowing “smart” development is essential as Florida continues to grow, said Wayne Flowers, vice chair of the Land Acquisition and Management Program Conservation Board.

Wayne E. Flowers

“The crush of people moving to Florida is unabated,” he said. “Between 2007 and 2011, we saw it fall off a bit but it seems as though the pandemic has exacerbated the amount of people moving to Florida.”

Once land is developed, it usually stays that way and open spaces are lost forever.

St. Johns County’s land conservation program, nicknamed LAMP, began in 1999, but lasted less than a decade, the St. Augustine Record reported. Officials stopped funding the program in 2008 after the Great Recession began.

Henry Dean, chair of the St. Johns County Commission, pushed to bring back LAMP. Dean is former general counsel for the Florida Department of Natural Resources. Later he led the St. Johns River Water Management District. He has also been on the board of directors of Audubon’s Florida chapter.

On Jan. 21, Dean and two other commisioners – Christian Whitehurst and Jeremiah Blocker – voted to restart LAMP with a budget of $500,000 per year. See minutes of meeting. Commissioners Paul Waldron and Jeb Smith voted against it.

“Commissioner Dean reconstituted the LAMP board that had been defunded for 10+ years,” said Flowers, an environmental law specialist.

Environmental activists and neighborhood groups applauded the move.

“There is absolutely no question that the rate and character of development in our community has been an ongoing cause of frustration among St. Johns County residents,” Matanzas Riverkeeper Jen Lomberk said in a statement released after the vote. “Restarting the LAMP program is a way to ensure that the rate of development is being counter-balanced by protection of natural resources in order to preserve our quality of life.”

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LAMP’s $500,000 budget would have been enough to buy 20 acres of land along State Road 206 in January. That doesn’t seem like much in the face of the relentless forces of development.

Screenshot of property purchased for $500,000 on Jan. 14.

According to the ordinance that restarted LAMP, county commissioners believe it’s “important and necessary” to:

  • Preserve Environmentally Sensitive Lands and nationally and Regionally Significant Habitat;
  • Protect the health and diversity of wildlife, especially Rare, Threatened, Endangered, or Endemic Species of plants and animals;
  • Conserve and stabilize cultural, historic, archaeological, and/or scenically significant sites;
  • Direct development away from Historic Sites, Archaeological Sites, Environmentally Sensitive Lands, Aquifer Recharge Areas, and high hazard areas that are subject to flooding or fire;
  • Preserve green space as a part of or near development that provides refuge for residents, visitors and wildlife;
  • Establish natural and Recreational Corridors throughout the County promoting wildlife migration, Alternative Transportation, and fitness or exercise;
  • Provide protection for water sources, water quality and Natural Drainage patterns;
  • Provide lands for safe and accessible public Outdoor Recreation consistent with the protection of natural resources;
  • Minimize the cost of acquisition and maintenance of lands and maximize the ability to obtain matching funds for the acquisition of lands in the context of their availability, their protection of natural resources, and their environmental sensitive, historic, archaeological, recreational and/or educational value;
  • Provide educational opportunities that contribute to eco-tourism, public education and awareness of the natural, historic and Archaeological Resources within St. Johns County;
  • Establish a conceptual management plan that reflects the conservation and public use goals, to be prepared and recommended prior to the acquisition of each parcel of environmentally sensitive, archaeological, historic and/or recreational land to be acquired by the County.

Flowers has been immersed in environmental issues for years. He graduated from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law in 1975.

His biography states:

Clients include private land owners and developers as well as entities of government. He represents these clients before local, state and federal agencies and courts on matters related to: wetland and storm water permitting, sovereign submerged lands, water supply, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Successfully represented governmental and private sector land owners in major Federal Court litigation concerning Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).

Successfully represented environmental permit applicants in challenges to permits before Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

Successfully negotiated ERP (Environmental Resource Permitting) and Section 404 permits authorizing wetland and surface water impacts for private developers of major residential, golf course, commercial and marina facilities.

He described some of his goals as a member of LAMP.

“Looking at lands in the county and creating a priority list of lands. What is most important with the idea of opportunities that arise that are worthy of addressing. The need to preserve and manage growth in a smart fashion and using what we have smartly is a way to determine priorities.”

Flowers said his responsibilities include meeting with government officials to discuss urbanization and environmental preservation.

“I am working with folks to responsibly develop land whether it be commercially or for residential planning,” he said. “I do from time to time talk with legislators at the local and state levels. It’s important to understand that there are regulations that impact growth and environmental protection at many different levels.”

Flowers said he understands the impact that development has on natural habitats. Developers should be especially cautious about building projects that could ruin some of northeast Florida’s waterways, he said.

“It’s not really smart to continue developing along waterways like the St. Johns River.”

The LAMP meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. April 12 at the St. Johns County Permit Center Conference Room, 4040 Lewis Speedway in St. Augustine. See agenda.

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