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Local landowners wary of changing zoning law for mining

When word spread late last month that a county commissioner was angling to put another regulatory hurdle in the way of two proposed sand mines being planned by out-of-county companies, it caused a number of local landowners to grow concerned about their own assets.

A meeting among an estimated 15 owners of large tracts of timberland, including Rayonier, DuPont, the Knabbs, the Davises, the Mobleys and others was convened August 30 at the Chamber of Commerce in Macclenny to discuss the measure, which they believed at the time Commissioner Mark Hartley would introduce five days later.

Attendee John Kennedy said the group was mainly concerned that the ordinance to be proposed — which would’ve required owners of parcels zoned agriculture to rezone their properties to industrial to carry out sand mining — may hinder their ability to sell their holdings, most of which are zoned agriculture today.

Mr. Kennedy, a retired banker, has numerous timber and land holdings in Baker County.

They were also worried the legislation was primed for quick passage with little discussion.

 

Fellow attendees asked that Mr. Kennedy speak for the group at last week’s commission meeting held the evening of September 4, should that matter come up. But as it turned out, he didn’t have to.

“What I was prepared to ask about, had they brought it up, is what are you trying to accomplish? How is this not a further restriction on a landowner’s rights?” Mr. Kennedy said this week. “We believe it’s very important because of the potential impact it has on any landowner with five or more acres designated agriculture. It’s a property rights issue.”

As reported in last week’s edition of The Press, Mr. Hartley was prepared to request the commission schedule a public hearing to discuss the ordinance, which would have amended the county’s Land Development Regulations to delete sand mining as a permitted use in agriculture zoning districts.

Mining is currently allowed if the landowner obtains an approved special exception application from the county commission.

But, in the end, Mr. Hartley decided he wasn’t ready to take the next step.

“I’m really not sure yet, I’m still looking at all options,” Mr. Hartley reiterated late last week.

“I want to make sure it’s what I want to do; if it really needs to be done. I want to give it more thought,” he said.

The commissioner said he remains opposed to the twin sand mining projects proposed by Tampa-based Old Castle Southern Group in the southeastern county and by Lake Wales-based E.R. Jahna in the northeastern county.

“I’m trying to make it harder to get approval for a sand mine,” said Mr. Hartley. “But I don’t know if that [the ordinance] is harder … I don’t know which way is better to get that accomplished.”

When asked if he’d spoken to the landowners or Chamber of Commerce director Darryl Register about the ordinance, Mr. Hartley said, “No. I haven’t heard from nobody.” He also said he was unaware the meeting among large landowners took place.

Mr. Hartley said he had consulted with county attorney Terry Brown while preparing the ordinance and wanted to continue those discussions before introducing the legislation to fellow commissioners.

He said the county’s comprehensive plan, including a so-called “urban growth boundary” inside which one of the proposed sand mine sites is located, may provide a basis to vote against the planned mines.

The boundary is intended to differentiate between areas where higher density urban land development should be encouraged and lower density rural land development should occur. The boundary encircles the central county communities of Sanderson, Glen St. Mary and Macclenny.

“I’m not an attorney. You have to make sure you do everything legal,” Mr. Hartley said.

Mr. Kennedy, speaking for the landowners, said initially the group was curious how the proposal came about, whether it was from a group opposed to sand mining or from Mr. Hartley himself. Nonetheless, they intend to stay alert for future developments.

Mr. Hartley’s intentions also made their way to Old Castle Southern.

The company resubmitted its special exception application to county staff, said county planning director Ed Preston, and paid the roughly $600 fee on August 31.

That occurred less than two weeks after Old Castle and E.R. Jahna withdrew their applications  just as county commissioners were about to consider them at the courthouse on August 20.

Old Castle spokeswoman Elizabeth Revell said by e-mail the company withdrew initially to wait for state and federal regulators to grant permits.

Then, she said, the company reapplied so it would be “grandfathered in” under the existing guidelines and not be subject to the potential rezoning called for by Mr. Hartley’s ordinance.

“The company learned that an ordinance was potentially being considered … to ban sand mining in Baker County,” she said.

Seven days after resubmitting, however, the company again withdrew its application, which Mr. Preston said he was told was not significantly different from the former one.

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