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County marks ‘astounding growth’

Sheldon Gardner St. Augustine Record | USA TODAY NETWORK

St. Johns County saw major news in growth and development in 2021, which remain two of its most controversial topics. h The U.S. Census Bureau released 2020 census numbers in August, confirming explosive growth in the county. h The 2020 census counted 273,425 people in St. Johns County, an increase of 83,386 since the 2010 census. That’s a 43% population increase from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. h St. Johns County Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker called the numbers “astounding.” h County Commissioner Henry Dean pointed out that the data was already likely lagging behind the real population total. The pace of development in St. Johns County increased in the interim.

Record number of home permits, hot housing market in St. Johns County

St. Johns County Building Official Howard White said the county set record-breaking numbers for single- family home permits this year. In June, the county permitted 820 single-family homes, which he said was a record for the entire history of the building department.

SilverLeaf was already one of the largest approved residential developments in St. Johns County when county commissioners voted 4-1 this month to allow its expansion.

SilverLeaf, which is in the northwest part of the county, was already approved for10,700 dwelling units on about 8,384 acres. The expansion adds 2,394 acres, up to 5,600 additional dwelling units and 250,000 more square feet of office space.

Commercial development

In January, St. Johns County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve Grand Cypress, a large-scale, mixed-use development to be built on the site of the former Best Bet gambling facility in the northwest portion of the county.

The plan, submitted by Jacksonville-based Gatlin Development Company, called for a rezoning of the property to a planned unit development for 915 multifamily units and 250,000 square feet of commercial and office use. The 103-acre site is located at the intersection of U.S. 1 North and Race Track Road, not far from the Durbin Park shopping center which includes Home Depot and Walmart.

One of the most talked-about commercial developments to open in St. Johns County in 2021 was Bucee’s, the first Florida installment of the Texas-based chain of Texas-sized gas stations.

The St. Johns County location is at 200 World Commerce Parkway at the southwest side of the Interstate 95 and International Golf Parkway interchange near the World Golf Village, off exit 323. The store is about 55,000 square feet and includes more than 100 fueling stations.

The store is split into the gift side, which features items such as clothing, home décor and sporting goods; and the food service and traditional convenience store sides, which include a barbecue station.

In St. Augustine, the Renaissance St. Augustine Historic Downtown Hotel opened at 6 W. Castillo Drive. Created by developer Kanti Patel and his firm Jalaram Hotels, the facility opened Sept. 2.

The 89-room hotel cost about $20 million to build, and its design was inspired by the Hotel San Marco, a 19th century hotel that was on the site, and other lodging spots that were popular in St. Augustine.

Workforce and affordable housing St. Johns County continued to struggle with a lack of affordable housing throughout 2021.

To help, the county broke ground in June on San Marcos Heights, a 132-unit development off State Road 207 a couple of miles northeast of Interstate 95.

As of the groundbreaking, the development was expected to have 24 one-bedroom, one-bath apartments; 84 two-bedroom, two-bath apartments; and 24 three-bedroom, three-bath units. Rents were expected to be $780 a month for a one-bedroom apartment; $927 a month for a two-bedroom apartment; and $1,070 a month for a three-bedroom apartment.

To afford fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in St. Johns County — $1,113 a month— someone would need to make $21.40 an hour at a fulltime job, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach” report. That is $44,520 a year. The estimated hourly average renter wage is $13.47 in St. Johns County.

Reporter Colleen Michele Jones contributed to this report.

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