Plan would put 5,000 homes in rural Clay


"Highlands" would cover 2,814 acres, and include industrial, office, retail and residential space.


By JOE LIGHT, The Times-Union

A developer hopes to create a $2 billion, master-planned neighborhood in northwest Clay County, extending the suburbs to what now is rural farmland and forming what the developer hopes will be a job center for Clay County.

The 2,814-acre development, called "Highlands," would have 3,000 single-family homes, 1,000 multi-family homes, and 1,000 age-restricted homes.

The partnership that owns the land, 301 Land Investments, plans to have 1 million square feet of light industrial space, 175,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail on the property, which is now mainly used for tree farming.

Once the community is completely built, Highlands will directly or indirectly create about 7,200 jobs, said Doug Miller of England, Thims & Miller Inc., the project's engineer and planner.

Representatives from 301 Land Investments and Clay County met in mid-December to begin the first stage of vetting, a pre-application meeting that Miller described as a "baby step" in a 12- to 15-month approval process.

If the county approves the project, construction would begin sometime in 2008. The number of homes and amount of office, retail and industrial space would increase incrementally over 10 years.

County officials had little time to ponder plans for Highlands before the first meeting with the developer, but one immediate concern that was raised was how it would affect traffic, said Holly Parrish, development facilitator for the county's engineering department.

Two major roads, U.S. 301 and County Road 218, would serve the property, and the developer plans to spend more than $40 million on regional road improvements, Miller said.

301 Land Investments' pre-application documents also show that the developer intends to leave room for three schools, 65 acres of parks, and 900 acres of green space.

301 Land Investments would act as master planner for the community and sell land to home builders, which would handle the actual home construction, Miller said.

The cost of those homes and the developer's additional investment in the community would run up to $2 billion, he said.

Representatives from 301 Land Investments met with the board of the Clay Hill Community Association on the same day of the county presentation, said association president Bill Garrison. They plan to return in February to present to the full association, he said.

Garrison said the board members seemed evenly split on the merits of the project. While the development would probably raise property values and extend utilities out to a region that is now served by septic systems, it could also increase traffic and change the rural character of the region, he said.

"It would be a dramatic change," said Garrison, who says he hasn't decided whether or not to support the project. "Just the fact that they're bringing this huge development is a foreign thought to some people."

The project will have to pass muster with the Northeast Florida Regional Council, the Clay County Commission and the state Department of Community Affairs to move forward with construction.

Staff for the regional council expect the council to consider the project for approval in December.