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Fruit Cove

st.johns county growth

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Growth crosses over St. Johns border

By BILL WESSELHOFF

Special Sections assistant editor

As Jacksonville grows to the south, so grows the Northwest Sector of St. Johns County.

The Northwest Sector is defined by St. Johns County as having boundaries of the county line to the north, the St. Johns River to the west, County Road 208 to the south and Interstate 95 to the east. The county's sector plan reports the area "encompasses 80,682 acres. Approximately 23,000 acres of wetlands and 58,000 acres of uplands."

Once primarily a rural area with some agriculture, the Northwest Sector is beginning to experience boom times. The sector's population has grown to about 32,000 people, up from about 22,000 only five years ago, said St. Johns County Planning Director Teresa Bishop.

"The Northwest area has a job base located in Duval County, and the southern end of Duval is growing south, so it's part of a continuation of what's happening in Duval County to the north," Bishop said.

County Deputy Building Official and Supervisor of Inspections H.T. White said that countywide St. Johns County has approved about 61,000 lots for single-family homes and about 21 million square feet of commercial space. Although the figures are not broken down to areas within the county, White said the lion's share of these home and business lots are in the Northwest Sector. Currently, about 11,000 of the home lots have been built on and about 1.5 million square feet of the commercial space developed.

White said the growth rate almost is beyond belief.

"I don't think people recognize what is about to happen," he said. "People say all the time, 'Can you believe how this area is growing?' and I have to tell them, 'You haven't seen anything yet. This is just the tip of the iceberg.' "

A 2003 study ranked St. Johns County the third fastest-growing among 67 counties in Florida and the 38th fastest of 3,142 in the country. Watson Realty Mandarin South office associate Randy Martin moved to the area in 1985. He's witnessed the growth.

"State Road 13 was a little more than a two-lane highway with woods and trees," he said. "It was just starting to develop. Julington Creek Plantation was there, but it wasn't as popular as it is today."

Julington Creek Plantation is the grandfather of developments in Northwest St. Johns County. But as of this fall, it's still only about half built with 3,316 homes in existence of a planned 6,292.

If Julington Creek Plantation is the grandfather, Nocatee will be the mother of all developments in the county, at least until something bigger comes along. Bordering the Northwest Sector's east side, the St. Johns portion of Nocatee has been approved for 12,579 homes and 4 million feet of commercial space. Work on the infrastructure is to begin next year. Home building in the development may go on for 10 to 15 years, or even longer, depending on the pace of sales, White said.

What makes living in Northwest St. Johns County so appealing? Many of these planned communities, like Julington Creek Plantation and South Hampton, have a family-oriented environment and amenities that allow people to retreat from hectic workplaces, Martin said. At the same time, there's easy access to downtown Jacksonville, historical St. Augustine or the coast and the beaches. All are about 20 miles away.

Variety in the price of housing, from $100,000 townhouses to $1 million riverfront properties, attracts a range of clients, Martin said. And, property values are staying on the rise, increasing 15 percent to 20 percent yearly in some areas.

"Plus, St. Johns County has done a tremendous job developing infrastructure, like the highways," Martin said. "You have anything you want in terms of shopping or restaurants. And, you can't beat the excellent school system, with their above-average SAT scores."

Donna Overman, St. Johns office manager for Coldwell-Banker Walter Williams Realty, said the school system is a big factor for many people moving to the area.

"The St. Johns County school system is a huge draw," Overman said. "I hope they can keep up with the influx of people who are looking to get their children a good education. We see a lot of people who say they must have their children in the St. Johns school system."

Overman's office, at the corner of Race Track Road and Florida 13, is experiencing growth along with the housing boom. She said the office had 18 agents at the end of last year, will have 25 agents by the end of this year and is projected to have between 35 and 40 by the end of 2005.

Watson is growing in the area, too. Watson regional manager Wendy Mayfield said her company is building a two-story, 16,000-square-foot office building that will initially house 50 to 60 agents near South Hampton on County Road 210.

"We're getting a lot of inquiries from agents in the area who want to work that corridor," she said. "It's one of the major growth corridors. Our Mandarin South office, which has most of its sales in St. Johns County, already has closed over $120 million this year. Our Ponte Vedra office has closed over $160 million. The growth is going that way.

"If you look at the traffic jam at [County Road] 210 and [interstate] 95 at 5:30 [p.m.], you'll see where the growth is going. It's heading down toward [Florida] 16. There's a lot of land down there. We're very optimistic about the growth that's going south."

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Julington Creek Plantation dominates land southeast of the intersection at Florida 13 and Race Track Road. Many of the Northwest Sector's new developments are growing along County Road 210.

Bill Wesselhoff/Special Sections staff

48950_400.jpg

Julington Creek marks the border between Duval County and St. Johns County's Northwest Sector. This bridge, on Florida 13, plus Interstate 95 and U.S. 1 to the east, are major transportation links between the two counties.

Bill Wesselhoff/Special Sections staff

I actually live in julington creek plantation and have witnessed all of this first hand over the past 7 years of living here.

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I drove down that way a couple of weeks ago to see the sprawl development first hand. I had no ideal that, that much growth had already crossed the county line in that area. Imo, they could use a couple of more direct access points to I-95, considering the amount of developments coming online for Northern St. Johns County.

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My folks live out that way and I'm kind of sad to see all of this happening. I think the master plan is to turn the entire county into a clone of Clay County or Mandarin - meaning sprawl everywhere. The old SR-13 used to be a quiet meandering road along the river - and it still is down toward Hastings. But they are building tract housing even south of SR-16.

I hope St. Johns County resists the temptation to widen the Shands Bridge or acquiesce to an "outer beltway" that has been proposed. But in NE Florida developers reign supreme so I'm not getting my hopes up.

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well past the hess station on sr13 they cant widen becasue it is all protected. and a direct access from 95 to race track is impossible because of the rest area right past it(which was poorly located) i heard you cnat have an exit and rest area within a mile of each other. the next overpass is cr210 and until russel sampson is paved that is pretty inaccessible form ppl in fruit cove. so to get to 95 its either trek up san jose to 295 or the new st. aug rd exit which is easy to get to from backroads in mandarin. 95 in north st.johns county was poorly planned.

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I-795, when completed in a couple of years, will help out a lot since it will dead end at Race Track Road. It will have new interchanges at I-95 and Philips Highway, before running in to I-295 (9A), between Philips Hwy and Baymeadows.

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340_Status_Map3.jpg

This map is the only graphic I could find. I-795 will be the short expressway segment presently called 9B. When complete, 9A will become I-295 and 9B, I-795. 9B is scheduled to begin construction in 2008.

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the sprawl continues...

just for the record, my exit off the turnpike extension is adjecent to a rest area. in fact if you go to the rest area you'll miss the exit. kind of strange. maybe that's an exception to the rule though.

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ive heard of that, im friends with our count commisoner elect and she has told me about 9-b and that a mall is being planned at 9b and racetrack, i dont know if that will go through though. is anyone familiar with batram platation at the end of racetrack by the dog track, if so do you konw if is cuts through the neighborhood and dead ends into the new publix shopping center on st. aug rd right by 95 exit.if it does it would be a huge time saver. or not because philips is right there too.

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I work in Fruit Cove (in same plaza as Thirteen Bean) and all of us bus owners agree that, within 10 years, SR 13 will resemble Blanding--more fun in traffic. Have recently heard of another 26,000 people that will be moving just south of my office into the RiverTown planned community (another JCP).

Who knows...at some point the push south has to stop and folks will eventually go back into the downtown. 40 mile commutes will get old after a while.

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