Nassau County prevails in dispute with major developer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It took some help from state lawmakers, but the Nassau County Commission fended off legislation Tuesday in Tallahassee that commissioners warned would imperil the county’s financial future.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment from state Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, canceling out the contents of a previous amendment to Senate Bill 324.

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Bean filed his amendment after the county learned of language in SB 324 that officials say would have let a major landowner wriggle free from financial commitments linked to a 24,000-acre development.

That language, commissioners contend, was put forth secretly by the Associated Industries of Florida last month on behalf of Raydient, the real estate arm of timberland and paper products giant Rayonier.

“We believe that the Bean amendment would put us back where we should be,” county attorney Mike Mullin said before the vote, adding that taxpayers could be on the hook for $50 million.

The vote marks the latest chapter in the ongoing dispute between the county board and Raydient over who should pay for parks and other infrastructure inside the East Nassau Community Planning Area.

The ENCPA is a master-planned development located smack dab in the center of Nassau County. Both sides backed a bill, HB 1075, last year that empowered the ENCPA to govern itself and raise money.

In exchange for the county’s support of the bill and tax relief, Raydient pledged to pay for infrastructure within the ENCPA so existing taxpayers wouldn’t have to, County Commissioner Pat Edwards said.

But ever since HB 1075’s passage, the county and developer haven’t seen eye to eye. Tuesday’s vote means the dispute heads back to Nassau County, where both sides must work out how to move forward.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

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Dan Boone