Builders propose special district in

Indian River and St. Lucie counties

COURTESY : TCPalm
By HENRY A. STEPHENS
Published December 30, 2006

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY Developers of Cloud Grove, who own 7,400 acres straddling the Indian River-St. Lucie County line, say they are hoping to form a special taxing district in both counties to put in their roads and utilities.

"It's a financing vehicle for paying for the infrastructure," Ernie Cox of Jupiter, attorney for the Florida Conservancy & Development Group, said this week.

Cloud Grove is proposed to be south of the Indian River-St. Lucie County line, a few miles west of Interstate 95, with 12,000 homes and 3.2 million square feet of commercial, office, industrial and public buildings. It's a new town being developed by the Florida Conservancy & Development Group, a joint venture of developers Lennar Corp. and Centex Homes.

The idea for the special district, Cox said, is to sell bonds and pay for the roads, water and sewer and other services before residents move into the 5,000-acre development. Then, he added, the district would pay off the bonds with taxes from property owners who move into the special district.

"This way, the existing county taxpayers don't pay for any of the infrastructure near the community," Cox said.

Diane Carr, a Tallahassee attorney for the developers, has proposed a bill for a special act of the Legislature creating the district on both sides of the county line.

That's puzzling Indian River County officials, since company officials say they have no plans to develop the 1,440 acres on the north side.

"We understand that area is supposed to be a lake," County Administrator Joe Baird said Friday. "I don't know why they'd need a community development district. Who would they assess if it's a lake?"

As long as the Indian River County land remains undeveloped, Cox said, the developer would be the one paying into the district.

If a proposed road connecting Cloud Grove to Oslo Road passes through the special district, he said, the developer would be assessed to help pay for it.

Baird said he didn't think the road would have to pass through a special district for Cloud Grove to have to pay for it.

Baird and County Commission Chairman Gary Wheeler said they felt ignored when Carr presented the bill recently to Indian River County's delegation of state lawmakers.

"The County Commission as a whole needs to know a lot more about this," Wheeler said. "It's a good way for a developer to raise money to build a project. I'm just not sure I agree with the project."

Cox said Wheeler's colleagues and county residents can expect to be filled in during the commission's regular meeting Jan. 16.

In December 2004, the developers purchased the 7,400 acres in both counties. Cloud Grove would be on the south side, and developers say they have no plans yet for the north side.

The St. Lucie County acreage is part of the Adams Ranch Rural Land Stewardship program. That program gives the Alto "Bud" Adams Jr. family incentives in exchange for protecting a large part of their 16,466-acre ranch from development in perpetuity.

Developers expect Cloud Grove to be finished by 2032, but state officials have not yet approved it. The proposal under the state's Rural Lands Stewardship program has the Adams family protecting 12,000 of their acres by transferring development rights. This would bar future development on the ranch land, but allow the 5,000-acre Cloud Grove to build its 12,000 homes.

SPECIAL TAX DISTRICTS

A special taxing district for Cloud Grove would not be unique. According to the state Department of Community Affairs:

There are about 1,500 special districts in the state in various sizes.

They are special-purpose governments, with elected or governor-appointed boards of directors, trustees or commissioners, who vote on policy such as budgets, but not general law.

They operate within specific boundaries, either within a county or across several counties.

Local examples include the Indian River County Hospital District; Barefoot Bay Recreation District; Indian River Mosquito Control District; Sebastian Inlet Tax District; St. Johns River Water Management District; and the Viera East Community Development District.

  
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