July 3, 2008

Highlands Homes Now a Dream Developer Says County Costs Are Too High and Ditches Plans


The developers of Highlands, the $2 billion, 5,000-home mega- development proposed for Clay Hill in rural Clay County, have canceled the project.

Mitigation demands by Clay County, such as $148 million worth of transportation improvements including widening County Road 218, made the project financially unfeasible, said Daniel Crapps, who owns the Lake City-based development company behind Highlands and is an owner of the land.

"It put more of a burden on the project than the project could bear," he said Wednesday. "They were trying to make us pay for all the sins of the past. I don't mind paying my fair share."

County Planning Director Mike Kloehn said he was "surprised" by Crapp's decision but insisted the county's demands were fair.

"We expected the Highlands to mitigate their impact consistent with the amount of development they have," he said. "We only want what's equitable."

County Commissioner Chereese Stewart, whose district includes Clay Hill, agreed, and had concerns about its impacts on the rural community.

"The things the county had asked for were not unrealistic," she said.

Highlands was to be built on 2,800 acres between County Road 218 and U.S. 301. Plans included 5,000 single- and multi-family residences and 1.4 million square feet of industrial, commercial and office space. The County Commission was to vote on the project July 22.

Although the development of regional impact application has been withdrawn, Crapps said he might reconsider if the county reduced its infrastructure requirements. If not, the land that was to be used for residential development will be put up for sale. Crapps plans to meet with county planners next week about pursuing the industrial component as a separate, standalone project.

Bill Garrison, president of the Clay Hill Community Association, whose members were divided about the project, applauded county planners for "playing hardball" with the developers.

"The county was holding their feet to the fire," he said.

Still, Garrison said he had mixed feelings about Highlands' fate and hopes the industrial component will proceed. That part of the development would not only provide jobs, but open up the area to other industries by installing water and sewer and fire protection infrastructure that is not currently available.

"I'm pleased by the fact that it is not going forward, but I am disappointed that we're not going to be getting the utilities," he said. "I really do feel that is going to be the catalyst [for economic development in the Clay Hill area] ... We need jobs."[email protected], (904) 366-6381

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