Supporters say it could bring jobs, but people who oppose it say rezoning the land from agricultural to industrial would set a dangerous precedent.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — The old community of Elkton is small.
“It’s kind of the heart of agriculture in St. Johns County,” Pat Hamilton said. He is a St. Johns County native.
It’s mostly farmland, a couple of churches, some old Florida homes and a string on buildings along State Road 207 make up the business sector. One of them is the eatery named Jim’s Place.
“All the farmers still go to Jim’s place and eat lunch. These families have been there for generations,” Hamilton noted with a smile.
“So if you put a major industrial site in the middle of it,” he added, “it’s gone”
Hamilton is one who does not want industrial warehouses built at the corner of State Road 207 and County Road 305, caddy corner from those businesses in Elkton.
“There is a concern we are losing farmland,” he said.
Chris Shee also praised the little farming community. “Elkton is special.” He spoke to the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Board in July.
Shee bought the approximately 90 acres that have been used for row crops. The land is about 4 miles west of I-95 on State Road 207. He wants to build two large warehouses on that farmland, with up to 1.2 million square feet of industrial space. That’s a little bigger than the Avenues Mall in Jacksonville. He says the organic food distributor KeHE is interested in this site.
In his presentation to the county, Shee said, “The company plans to relocate its southeast regional headquarters form Jacksonville to this location.”
But there’s a hang up. The land is zoned for agriculture, not light industrial. So Shee is applying for a rezoning. But others like Hamilton say that would literally pave the way for more industrial businesses to invade this farming region.
“This is kind of a key place of whether you keep agriculture or you open it up,” Hamilton said.
Some supporters of the industrial park say it would be positive for the area because it will bring jobs.
Shee noted that KeHE, which already has a smaller location in St. Johns County near County Road 207 and I-95, could bring 1400 new jobs with this project.
But others tell First Coast News that jobs aren’t what St. Johns County really needs, as much as it needs agricultural land.
Hamilton said, “Yes, you need economic development and yes, you need jobs, and this is a great company,” but he thinks this proposed location is the wrong place for industrial zoning.
However, Shee told county leaders that whoever thinks this piece of land could remain “farmland in perpetuity is burying his head in the sand.”
The St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Board voted in favor of the project. The St. Johns County Commission has the final say. This project will be on the county commission’s agenda September 20th.