VHB Helps Establish North Florida Habitat as Public Park and Preserve

Integrated Team Provides Insight When Evaluating Cherished Land Facing Eminent Domain

August 20, 2020

Boaters, kayakers and paddleboarders will be able to access Black Creek from a section of the Preserve

North Florida’s rapid population growth reflects U.S. census data that shows the Sunshine State consistently gaining the most new residents from across state borders. That growth means balancing a need for more neighborhoods, roads, and schools along with the preservation of the state’s fragile natural ecosystems. In rural Clay County southwest of Jacksonville, VHB’s planning team helped a private landowner preserve one such cherished piece of Old Florida while supporting the need for regional transportation connectivity. With insight from VHB’s integrated team of real estate development management specialists, planners, and engineers, the owner was able to establish the land as an asset to the community via a public access park with kayak launches and hiking trails. The owner’s history of environmental stewardship was top-of-mind when considering highest and best use of the property.

The new parcel of land, called Rideout Point Preserve Park, is located by the Black Creek Ravines Conservation Area and includes just over three miles of river frontage along the Black Creek shoreline, which can be used for water recreation.

In 2017, the State of Florida identified part of the property for future construction of the new First Coast Expressway, a multi-lane toll road under phased construction in North Florida. The owners hired property rights attorneys with Gunster, who partnered with VHB, appraisers and environmental consultants to assist with the condemnation process (the legal process by which governments acquire property via eminent domain). Facing eminent domain and what can at times can be a contentious takings process, VHB worked closely with the land use attorney to deliver a positive outcome for the landowner. In coordination with the team, VHB provided a history of entitlements on the property, assessed impacts to the property given the construction of the roadway, and recommend the highest and best use of the property in both the before- and after-condition.

A dusting of reindeer moss carpets the ground in a section of the proposed Rideout Point Preserve Park
A dusting of reindeer moss carpets the ground in a section of the proposed Rideout Point Preserve Park

The team also evaluated land use regulations for development potential and provided environmental analysis of wetlands, stormwater, and other impacts. This insight helped streamline the regulatory process and legal proceedings and provide peace-of-mind to an owner with a keen interest in protecting Florida’s wildlife, woods, and waterways.

“This was a cherished piece of family land for the property owner who is heavily involved in local conservation efforts and forestry,” said Katie Shannon, community planner at VHB. “The family has memories of camping there among its 800 acres of cypress, pine flatwoods, sandhills, and wetlands.”

VHB’s land planning leaders are frequently called upon as consultants or expert witnesses by land use attorneys, private owners or taking authorities (such as state or local governments) in eminent domain cases to acquire land. In the Rideout Point Preserve case, the State of Florida has eminent domain for large transportation projects like the expressway.

“In cases like Rideout Point Preserve, the owner recognized the ecological value of the land and wanted to make certain it remained as close to its natural state as possible, with the added benefit of opening it up for public recreation and enjoyment.” said Jim Sellen, VHB’s Florida Planning Practice Leader. “Our shared emphasis on protecting environmental resources helped make this project a success for both the owner, the State of Florida and future generations who will visit the park and appreciate the land for years to come.”

For information about VHB’s real estate and planning services, contact Jim Sellen.