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'I'm disgusted:' Residents oppose rezoning of nearby land for proposed industrial park in St. Augustine

Supporters say project would bring jobs and help alleviate truck traffic on I-95 in Jacksonville and northern St. Johns County

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Developers behind a proposed industrial park and rail yard in St. Johns County say it could help alleviate traffic congestion in Jacksonville.

That industrial park is proposed to go right next to neighborhoods, and those who live close by are calling it a "crazy" idea. 

"I’m very mad about it. I don’t like it. I’m disgusted," Paul Crookshank told First Coast News Thursday morning.  He and about 15 of his St. Augustine neighbors – some with picket signs -- gathered to share their concerns about a proposed industrial park and rail yard. 

They all live in neighborhoods off of County Road 214, which is the far west portion of West King Street.

"I built my house out here 33 years ago," Crookshank said. "I was under the influence that nothing but homes would be out here."

A local doctor – Roy Hinman – owns the land and is behind the project. It would be named after him:  the Colonel Hinman Intermodal Exchange Facility, or CHIEF for short. He and his team are asking St. Johns County to rezone 200+ acres along County Road 214 from residential to light industrial. They want to build a railyard and warehouses.

"It was my idea," Joe Williams told First Coast News Thursday.  He was in the crowd of people gathered along CR 214, waiting to speak with First Coast News. He said he is the project manager and believes it will "create jobs, have a career, and make money! Absolutely. I'm not going to hide the fact we want to create revenue."

James Whitehouse, an attorney representing Hinman and the project, told the county's Planning and Zoning Board Thursday afternoon there would be a dense tree buffer around the project, "the size of four football fields." And he said the county needs more industrial areas.

"There are only five sites in St. Johns Count and not many doing warehousing or intermodal exchange," Whitehouse said. 

Williams told First Coast News the idea is to create a rail yard that would alleviate semi and cargo traffic in Jacksonville. 

However, many neighbors who would live next to the development say it would dump the semi trucks onto the two-lane roads in their community.

"If the fire department and rescue vehicles can’t get down here because of the industrial vehicles on the road," resident Jo Ekern said. "What is going to happen to the rest of us?"

Resident Richard New said by adding more large trucks to the small roads, "The roads will get torn-up, and they will need more frequent work done to them, and it’s going to cost us as taxpayers more money."

"Now these guys," Crookshank said, referring to the team which wants to build an industrial park. "Want to put a bunch of tractor trailers back here! It's crazy!"

Residents along the western part of SR 207 are also concerned the project will send more tractor trailers -- that are I-95 bound -- to their community.

This issue was discussed for four hours in Thursday's St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Board meeting. The team supporting the project as well as residents opposed to it both spoke.  

In the end, that committee voted to deny recommending the project. So that means, the project will still go before the county commission, however, it does not have the recommended approval from the Planning and Zoning board.

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