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State of Clay: Elected officials said preparation for future growth starts now

Posted 2/29/24

ORANGE PARK – County Mayors and the County Commission Chairman shared a common theme Wednesday at the annual Clay Chamber State of the County luncheon: the time to prepare for the future is right …

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State of Clay: Elected officials said preparation for future growth starts now


Posted

ORANGE PARK – County Mayors and the County Commission Chairman shared a common theme Wednesday at the annual Clay Chamber State of the County luncheon: the time to prepare for the future is right now.

BCC Chairman Jim Renninger joined Mayors Connie Butler of Green Cove Springs, Randy Anderson of Orange Park, Adrian Andrews of Penney Farms and Nina Rodenroth of Keystone Heights to share their municipality’s vision to prepare for unprecedented growth already on planning boards. They shared their visions with a room filled with elected, business and community leaders at the Thrasher-Horne Center.

Officials said as many as 10,800 new homes are planned for five different developments, and with that comes the immediate need to repair and build infrastructure to meet the demands.

“My fellow Commissioners and I passed the budget surpassing $731 million for this fiscal year, a huge amount of money,” Renninger said. “A majority of those dollars are earmarked for increasing infrastructure, public safety and services to our community.”

Renninger said in the next 15 years, 4,000 homes are planned for the Governors Park community; another 4,300 are expected at Saratoga Springs; the Rookery will have 2,000 homes and as many as 500 are slated at Sunrise Road and Fox Run Road developments in Keystone Heights.

The county will spend $174 million on road projects to keep pace. It will also build four new fire stations and remodel many of the 12 existing stations.

Renninger said other Northeast Florida Regional Council counties are working with Clay to create a regional plan. According to the U.S. Census, more than 300,000 people moved to Clay, Duval, Nassau, St. Johns, Baker, Putnam and Flagler counties last year.

“The Regional Council helped us to develop our first five-year strategic plan,” he said. “They helped us develop such things as substance use disorder, transportation and resiliency.” 

All while maintaining a “small county” feel.

“I just want to say we are all about small towns and big passions,” he said.

Andrews said Penney Farms is replacing its water pipes and electronically mapping out the town to be better prepared when the property around the 1.46-square-mile sleepy community is sold for development.

“We’re trying to catch up with the technology that’s out there to keep us abreast of what’s going on in our town,” he said. “Gold used to be the No. 1 investment. No longer. So we know we are surrounded by land that belongs to a corporation. When that group sells out, we’re going to be able to handle the growth, those homes, and whatever business is coming our way.”

Butler said Green Cove Springs is bracing for developments that will come when the First Coast Expressway is completed near the city’s south side.

The city council has developed comprehensive plans to maintain its historic nature while welcoming new growth.

“As we know, our county is growing, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds,” she said. And in the process, we don’t want to forget about the residents. You hear a lot about the growth, the growth, the growth. So, we’re looking at ways to embrace the growth and have that balance.”

Butler gleefully reminded everyone Green Cove Springs will celebrate its 150th birthday as a municipality this year. While the official event will be on Nov. 2, other events will be celebrated as lead-ups to the big party.

Orange Park’s Anderson boasted that his town operates on a $24 million budget and has no debt. He said the town is working to replace the last 45 septic tanks inside the city limits. Orange Park has also invested significantly in buying wetlands and improving drainage to address frequent flooding.

Finally, Rodenroth reminded everyone of Keystone Heights’ historic and recreational past. The city has rebuilt and opened the Keystone Beach Pavillion, and the water levels in the lakes will soon rise again when the Black Creek Restoration Project is completed by next year.

“After 15 years of the lakes in recession, we experienced a dramatic change in our physical landscape, property values, businesses and tourism appeal,” she said. “The Black Creek project promises the return of our lakes' waters back to their pristine beauty and abounding shorelines.

“Fifty-seven percent of our residents were born in Keystone Heights. I value their input and vision as it will shed light on just how truly amazing the return of those precious lakes will be. Partnering with our Clay County tourism marketing team will be critical for our short-term future plans for success. Keystone’s growth and tourism potential will deliver much excitement and thrill as we create our own moments in time. It can be yours.”

The event was hosted by the Clay Chamber, and Baptist Medical Center Clay was the presenting sponsor.