ST.JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- This week marks the pre-construction opening of what will be one the largest master planned communities in Northeast Florida.
SilverLeaf will be located in St. Johns County between County Road 210 and State Road 16 at St. Johns Parkway west of Interstate 95. The 8000-acre community is zoned for 10,700 dwellings.
The ten-year development plan includes two new K-8 schools and a new high school.
Models homes are expected to be built later this year.
The Hutson Companies say they are investing about $85 million in the infrastructure for the community to alleviate potential traffic issues for future residents.
It’s just one of many new developments in St. Johns County, which is the 18th fastest growing county in the country. Its top-rated school district is a big draw for new families moving to the area.
Lisa Marston, owner of Woodpeckers Backyard BBQ opened her downhome restaurant on State Road 16A near the St. Johns River four years ago. Her business is fed by the growth. At lunchtime, it’s a full house.
“As a business owner I love it,” said Marston. “Oh, it's crazy. It's blowing up everywhere, homes are going up. You know RiverTown is just north of me. I'm going to say a couple of miles so I would say they're going to put about five thousand rooftops not to mention St Johns County on 210 is blowing up."
One of those developments on County Road 210 is an 800-home upscale development called Beachwalk that stands out because of its unique, 14-acre man-made lagoon.
“It's going to be literally like a Caribbean beach resort but it's right out the back door of your house,” said developer John Kinsey.
The new development will also include hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space.
“We're talking with a couple of national movie theater chains, a number of local restaurants and local shops, and national restaurants, as well medical office buildings,” said Kinsey. “People are discovering that this corner of St Johns County is really about to become alive and open for business.”
It's a hefty investment developers like Kinsey are willing take. His group will be footing the bill to expand County Road 210 from the two-lane road it is now to a six-lane divided highway.
“We didn't get to build this community for free. I mean if you take the school property we donated, the roadway improvements that we've agreed to build, it is somewhere north of $50 million dollars before we get the first dollar back,” said Kinsey.
Nearby more homes are being built in Nocatee which continues to be one of the top ten fastest growing master planned communities in the country.
The population of St.Johns County grew by 28 percent from 2010 and 2017 to nearly 244,000 people. By 2030, the University of Florida predicts, it could reach 375,000.
County Commissioner Jimmy Johns says there are no plans for a moratorium on building permits.
“We have to play close attention to it. We have to be very vigilant,” said Commissioner Johns. “We're either managing growth or decline. I would be concerned if we were having to manage decline because we would not have the resources to maintain the services and the infrastructure that we already have.”
We met Commissioner Johns at Durbin Park where a Walmart will open later this year in the first phase of a massive development.
“This is estimated when it's completed to provide almost ten million dollars per year to our general fund,” explained Commissioner Johns. “Our current budget is only around the $160 million per year for the general fund. That's a giant increase.”
With the growth comes growing pains like congested roads and plans to open new ones.
“The road we're standing on is scheduled to open in the next four to six weeks so we will have a corridor opening to 9B, which may not be known to be many people at all to have access to get on 95 right here from Racetrack Road,” said Commissioner Johns.
FDOT has plans to expand Interstate 95 in parts of St Johns County to 10 lanes with the addition of Express Lanes planned between the I-95/I-295 South Interchange and International Golf Parkway.
“We really did our homework before we relocating, but I mean people want to be here that's why it's growing,” said Amy Donnelly.
And for many families like the Constables who just moved to St. Johns County, one of the biggest draws is the top-rated school district.
“We're picking it for a reason. Great minds think alike and us and lots of other people think it's a great place to live so they will be able to keep up with it,” said Jillian Constable.
School District Superintendent Tim Forson says parents should be prepared that their children may be rezoned to a different school as new ones open.
"Rezoning is the hardest job because you always make someone upset at the end of the day," said School Board representative Beverly Slough in a story about rezoning last year.
If you're concerned about the growth or just want to give your input Commissioner Johns encourages residents to volunteer on advisory committees.