The Truth about Nassau County’s dispute with Raydient

As discussions about the future of how to fund Nassau County’s parks continue in our community, it is important to understand the facts.

 

Nov 15 UPDATE: 

Regrettably, due to Nassau County’s unlawful actions and inaccurate public statements, Raydient Places + Properties and other Rayonier subsidiaries have sought court intervention to fully protect their property rights.  The lawsuit details the history of the County’s improper actions targeted at Raydient and other Rayonier subsidiaries, including the County’s recent enactment of a municipal service taxing unit ordinance over the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), as well as the County’s misleading interpretation of the East Nassau Stewardship District Bill.

In accordance with the County’s regulations for residential development, Raydient complied with its proportionate fair share requirements by agreeing that residential builders will pay the County’s standard recreation impact fees, and at buildout, residential developers will have donated more than 700 acres of land to the County for parks and recreation facilities.  As part of its basic legal function, the County then has the responsibility to construct and maintain public community and regional park facilities on the donated land. 

However, in this case, after Raydient obtained development approvals in the ENCPA, the County coercively attempted to require Raydient and the Stewardship District to additionally fund millions of dollars for the construction and maintenance of public community and regional park facilities.  Essentially, requiring Raydient to construct and maintain parks in the ENCPA into perpetuity would be supplanting a function of Nassau County government – a function the County collects property taxes for, as well as impact fees from builders when permits are pulled.  This effort by the County was in part driven by the County’s existing parks and recreation deficiencies, which the County has admitted resulted from its own poor planning and fiscal mismanagement.  Simply put, what Nassau County has tried to coerce from Raydient over the last couple of years is unprecedented and unlawful.

When Raydient refused to yield to the County’s demands and serve as its bailout, the County retaliated against Raydient by enacting an unlawful municipal services taxing unit ordinance that encompassed only the ENCPA property.  This ordinance unfairly requires Raydient and the other property owners within the ENCPA to disproportionately bear the burden of funding the County’s historic parks and recreation deficiencies.

As to the dispute over the interpretation of the Stewardship District Bill, the County has falsely asserted that certain language in the bill obligates Raydient and the Stewardship District to construct and maintain parks and recreation facilities. Either the County misunderstood the bill, or has been creating the false impression to the public that the Stewardship District Bill creates “obligations” that simply do not exist.

 

Download a copy of the Raydient Complaint 11-13-18


The bottom line is: 

  • The dispute is about who pays for fixing Nassau County's current backlog of needs for parks and recreation facilities.
  • Nassau County's own regulations require the County to construct and maintain its parks and recreation facilities.
  • For decades, the County has poorly planned and underfunded all public facilities, including recreation, while approving many thousands of new residential units.
  • For many years, Nassau County has collected impact fees that were too low to build the facilities needed due to growth.
  • Additionally, the County failed to collect its low impact fees for more than five years and that made the backlog even worse.
  • It is illegal for Nassau County to try to force new developments to pay for the County’s existing shortage of public facilities.

 

The solution is economic development: 

  • Bring more jobs to Nassau County.
  • Bring more non-residential investment to Nassau County.
  • Raise the quality and standards of residential development within the County.
  • The East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”) achieves these goals.

  

ENCPA background: 

  • The 24,000-acre ENCPA is the result of many years of collaboration between Nassau County and Raydient to promote a higher quality of development, create jobs and bring private non-residential investment.
  • It was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2011, after more than 5 years of planning and many public meetings.
  • It includes more than 700 acres of land to be donated for public parks and recreation facilities.
  • It includes more than 12,000 donated acres for perpetual conservation in the Conservation Habitat Network – an area almost three quarters the size of Amelia Island and the largest wildlife land conservation effort in Nassau County history!
  • Nassau County says Raydient committed to pay for all ENCPA public parks and recreation facilities but cannot produce any record to support that claim.
  • The only “Commitments” Raydient made to the County are contained in the ENCPA land use approvals and County regulations and are a matter of public record. These are those Commitments:
  • In the initial less-than-300-acre phase of Wildlight, Raydient’s Commitment is to donate 34 acres for County public parks.

 

Learn more about the "ENCPA"


Clarifying the myths about Raydient, here are the facts:

 

Myth #1: Raydient went to Tallahassee to avoid its Commitments.

Fact: Raydient keeps its commitments.

The changes to the State’s sector plan law that were proposed earlier this year in Tallahassee sought to make clear a long standing Florida rule that growth should pay its proportionate fair share based upon its impacts. Every development must be held to this standard.

The changes would not have modified any of Raydient’s Commitments or the Stewardship District Legislation. If the legislation was truly designed to remove existing developer commitments contained in sector plan requirements, why didn’t any of the other 66 Florida counties object?

The legislation was supported by the Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Land Council, the Florida Home Builders Association and others to curb abuses by local governments. Notably, the Florida Association of Counties – the group that represents the interests of Florida counties in the legislature – did not oppose the legislation. Nassau County was the only local government to protest.

  • None of Raydient’s Commitments require that Raydient pay the entire cost of building and maintaining public parks.
  • Constructing and maintaining recreational facilities and other public infrastructure is a basic function of government and the reason the County collects impact fees and taxes. The County does this within the ENCPA just as it does everywhere else.
  • It is illegal for the County to require a new development to pay for the County’s past mismanagement or to pay more than its proportionate fair share.

 

Myth #2: Raydient won’t meet with the Nassau County Commission.

Fact: The Nassau County Commission won’t meet with Raydient.

Raydient has repeatedly offered to meet with County officials and they have repeatedly refused the offer. As recently as September 24, 2018, Raydient’s President offered to meet with Commission Chairman Edwards to start a discussion about how Raydient and the County can move forward together. Unfortunately, Commissioner Edwards refused the meeting without explanation. Over the past several years, Raydient met with County officials dozens of times to discuss ENCPA projects and issues and continues to do so.

The problems began in the summer of 2017 when the County for the first time ever demanded that Raydient pay all costs to build and maintain public parks as a condition for an additional development approval. This is far more than any of Raydient’s Commitments or its fair share and is illegal under Florida law. This unsupported demand is the biggest reason for Raydient’s insistence that the next meeting between the Company and the County must be facilitated by a neutral third party familiar with both growth management law and the finances related to the demand.

If the County Commissioners truly want to work together, communicate and solve problems, then why won’t they meet with us at a location that is ideal for working together, communicating and problem solving? The County has said that it will only meet in Commission Chambers. Why do they need to control the agenda, microphone and gavel if they are truly focused on cooperating to solve problems?

Our team agreed to discuss unresolved disagreements in a public workshop in early 2018. Unfortunately, County officials changed the agenda at the last minute in a way that was not designed to reach agreement on funding for public facilities, including recreation. In response, Raydient sent the County a letter stating just that.

  • Over the last several months, Raydient repeatedly offered to collaborate with the County and to participate in a public facilitated meeting to resolve our differences. The County has declined each offer.
  • Raydient is currently funding a study to determine the type, location, cost and potential funding sources for public facilities, including recreation, within the ENCPA. The County has refused to participate in the study unless Raydient agrees now to pay the full cost of any facilities identified in the study, which would be signing a perpetual blank check.

 

Myth #3: The ENCPA caused taxes to rise in Nassau County.

Fact: The tax increase resulted from the County’s poor financial management over many years.

Wildlight has only two families living in it right now. It is not the reason the County is raising taxes.  For many years, the County has approved residential development after residential development without charging appropriate impact fees to mitigate for the growth. Because of that, the County now has needs it can’t pay for and has to find a way to pay for the backlog it created.

  • The ENCPA is a big part of the solution. High-quality businesses coming to Wildlight, including two other corporate headquarters with similar tax impacts as Rayonier’s own headquarters, will help bail Nassau County out of its financial problems by bringing more balance to the tax base. These businesses aren’t coming into Nassau County because they want to see it fail -- they want to see it thrive!
  • Employees in these companies will eat, get gas and buy groceries and other needs here, leaving additional tax dollars in Nassau County’s coffers.
  • As a landowner in Nassau County for more than 80 years, our parent company, Rayonier, is proud to invest in our community. Rayonier built its headquarters on 2.5 acres in Wildlight and the taxes on those 2.5 acres have increased from less than $7 to more than $136,000 per year in Nassau County taxes alone!
  • The Nassau County School District will receive an additional $89,000 each year from just these 2.5 acres on top of the increased County taxes.
  • Residents within the ENCPA will pay taxes in exchange for County services, just like every other Nassau County resident.

 

Myth #4: Wildlight is entitled to a 12% discount in property taxes.

Fact: There is no tax discount.

Raydient committed to the construction of all roads within the ENCPA without the use of any tax dollars from outside the ENCPA. Some of these roads will be donated to the County upon their completion. These County roads benefit all County residents and will be the major roads through the ENCPA (not to be confused with residential streets). To ensure that only future residents of the ENCPA pay for the impacts of their growth ("growth pays for growth"), the County set-up a 12% Tax Increment Financing ("TIF") system to help pay for County transportation facilities within the ENCPA.

This is how County roads are paid for in the ENCPA. First, anyone who builds a building in the ENCPA pays a mobility fee when they get a building permit.  That fee goes toward paying for County roads in the ENCPA.  Because the fee isn’t enough to pay the full cost of construction, the TIF makes up the rest.

For example, before Rayonier built its new headquarters building on 2.5 acres of what was timberlands, it paid less than $7 per year to the County in property taxes for that land. Now that the building is on that same land, it pays more than $136,000 in property taxes per year to the County, in addition to what it pays to the school system and other taxing authorities. Of that, the County continues to receive the original $7 per year, plus $120,561, or 88% of the taxes over the original $7, for any use it determines. The balance of 12%, or $16,439, over the original $7 per year, also known as TIF, will be used to reimburse those who built County roads within the ENCPA. Once these County roads are built and the costs are reimbursed, then all the taxes will go to the County's coffers.

TIF graphic-1

  • 12% TIF along with mobility fees are only used to finance the few main spine roads (as shown in this map), such as a road connecting Chester Road to CR 108 or a future I-95 interchange in the ENCPA, and a trail network. These roads will be built by the developer and owned and maintained by the County. 
  • The vast majority of the roads in the ENCPA, such as neighborhood streets and alleyways, will be funded by the developer, owned by the Stewardship District and maintained through fees paid by the residents of Wildlight.

 

Myth #5: The Stewardship District harms County taxpayers

Fact: The Stewardship District benefits County taxpayers

The Stewardship District was created because the County was unwilling to accept ownership and maintenance responsibility for the vast majority of the public infrastructure (public roadways, the more than 12,000-acre Conservation Habitat Network, storm water management systems, trails, etc.). It was created in large part to benefit Nassau County, ease the burden of growth and provide the County with one central board to work with instead of multiple Community Development Districts (“CDD”).

  • Residents of the ENCPA pay mobility fees and taxes to build public infrastructure and also pay Stewardship District fees to maintain it.

Definitions

East Nassau Community Planning Area (“ENCPA”) 

The 24,000-acre ENCPA is the result of the collaboration between Nassau County and Raydient. It is part of the County’s comprehensive plan and provides standards and development rights for the development and conservation of the entire area, including up to 24,000 residential units and 11 million square feet of nonresidential uses. It was approved by the State of Florida and the Board of County Commissioners in 2011.

 

Detailed Specific Area Plan (“DSAP”) 

Detailed Specific Area Plans are an implementation plan of the ENCPA. They grant development rights, establish specific land uses and policies to regulate development in a development order (“DO”). The approximately 4,200-acre DSAP #1 grants rights to build up to 4,038 residential units and 7.1 million square feet of non-residential uses. It was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in June 2013 and amended in May 2015.

 

Wildlight 

Wildlight encompasses approximately 2,900 acres which is a subset of the DSAP #1 lands. Raydient has approval through a Preliminary Development Plan (“PDP”) for the development of the initial phase of Wildlight, on less than 300 acres of developable land. The PDP was approved by Nassau County staff in May 2015 and subsequently amended.

 

East Nassau Stewardship District ("The District") 

The East Nassau Stewardship District (“The District”) is an entity that does not replace County services, does not create a burden or obligation on taxpayers outside the District, or obligate any party to do anything. Rather, the District has the power to undertake the responsibilities the County refused to accept when it approved the ENCPA. All Nassau County laws, regulations, ordinances and permitting processes remain in place and will continue to control the development of lands within the proposed District.

The District can (but is not obligated to) finance, construct and/or maintain public infrastructure through annual special assessments on the land. District infrastructure and facilities are largely accessible to the public and provide a benefit to taxpayers both inside and outside the district.

The District provides one consolidated point of contact to Nassau County for inter-local agreements, mutual cooperation and shared use facilities. It was established in June 2017, through the support of the local Nassau County government, the legislative enactment by the State House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.

Stay informed!