GREEN COVE SPRINGS | Clay County residents will have three more opportunities – likely sometime next month – to help the County Commission prioritize the county’s needs as it updates the comprehensive plan through 2040.
Residents attending a recent series of seven public workshops identified jobs especially manufacturing and high tech opportunities as the top priority. They voiced their concerns and ideas that were compiled into a priority list of issues. Those workshops – one in each of the county’s seven planning districts – focused on six general categories: jobs, parks and recreation, transportation, neighborhoods, environment and quality of life/other issues spanning the next 23 years.
Ed Lehman, county Planing and Zoning director, summaries those results for the commission during its March 14 meeting.
“The plan right now is to have three more workshops. One will be in the Oakleaf area. One will be in the Fleming Island area and one will be in Lake Asbury. We’re trying to hit the most populated areas,” Lehman said. Participants in the upcoming workshops will evaluate the priorities from the previous sessions, he said.
“What we’re going to do is take this list of issues and rank them again without trying to skew it. There will be no more issues added. They will be voting on this. And people if they go to one workshop or another will have the exact same to vote for. We hope to get a more balanced result for that and we can present to you what those issues are,” Lehman told the commission.
After the meeting, Lehman said county staff as yet hasn’t finalized the dates for the three additional workshops, but he expects they will be held in mid-to late April. He hopes the upcoming workshops will attract more residents than the previous ones, which had somewhat scant attendance.
The commission will consider residents’ input as it updates the county’s comprehensive plan, which is a series of goals, objectives and policies intended to guide the preservation, growth and provisions of future county services.
Projections show Clay’s population will be 304,669 in 2040 – slightly more than a 48 percent increase from 205,321 last year,he said.
“So, in two generations we’re growing from a city the size of Poughkeepsie to a city the size of Pittsburgh. It’s pretty robust growth,” Lehman said. Much of the growth is expected to occur in the Penney Farms/Lake Asbury, Green Cove Springs and Doctors Inlet/Ridgewood planning districts. The Doctors Inlet/Ridgewood district includes the Oakleaf Plantation area of the county, he said.
The comprehensive plan, which has 13 elements ranging from future land use, housing and capital improvements to public school facilities as well as transportation and conservation, must be updated every seven years, according to Florida law.
The process requires the county do an evaluation and appraisal report examining the current comprehensive plan and county’s projected future needs. The focus includes changes in Florida law, how well the county plan is working and major issues expected in the future. Lehman said the county will submit the evaluation and appraisal report to the state by Oct. 1.
Lehman told the commission “with seven different workshops, obviously we had different numbers of people attend each one.” In an earlier memo to the commission, Lehman said a total of 207 votes were cast by the workshop participants ranking the issues of highest concern.
The previous workshop participants said jobs, especially the need to expand the employment base, attract and retain clean industry with higher paying jobs should be the No. 1 priority. They said Clay lacks employment opportunities particularly for young professionals. Until a more expansive employment base is established, Clay will continue to be a bedroom community to Jacksonville, according to the workshop participants.
The participants said Clay has inadequate park facilities to serve some of the county’s population centers. Lake Asbury, for example, doesn’t have enough soccer and other athletic fields. Some Orange Park residents said the county should do more to help improve the Orange Park Athletic Association, which is inside the Town of Orange Park limits. Other participants called for a better system of greenways and trails within the county, as well as increased canoe/kayak launches and fishing sites.
Road repairs topped the concerns of participants about transportation. U.S. 17 and Doctors Lake Drive needs repairs, while bike lanes are needed on other county roads. The consensus of participants was the county should consider increasing transportation funding such as by impact fees or tax increment financing to address future travel needs.
Regarding neighborhoods, participants said the county has too many empty commercial buildings that should be refurbished and renovated instead of allowing new construction. There also was concern that residential neighborhoods are being approved without the commitment for necessary infrastructure improvements, and that too many houses are too close together. The county should slow down the number of residential permits issued until there is a recognized funding source to pay for the necessary infrastructure, according to the participants.
Protecting water quality including protecting the springs and Floridan aquifer topped the environment list. Much of the discussion in the Keystone Heights Planning District focused on the decline of water levels in the area’s chain of lakes, which are a major recharge area for the Floridan aquifer. In addition, participants at all the workshops supported continued maintenance of the county’s greenways and parks.
Participants duplicated some of their previous comments in the quality of life/other issues category. However, they mentioned the need for nightlife or other entertainment options for young adults, and the need to preserve the character of the county’s existing rural areas.
Commissioner Mike Cella said he attended the meeting previously held at Fleming Island.
“It is eye-opening in terms of what people think should be here in the county and what will contribute to the quality of life so they will want to stay in the county. Or in some cases, people realize how are we going to attract new residents and be able to grow new businesses. It’s a great road map for us,” Cella said.
Lehman said participants in two of the sessions brought up the need for hotels or motels in the southern end of the county.
“It came up in two planning districts that we can’t really attract events because people don’t stay here,” Lehman said.
Meanwhile, residents also can take an online county survey at http://www.claycountygov.com/departments/planning-/2025-comprehensive-plan/2040-comprehensive-plan-update-survey.
Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075