Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a Florida Politics investigative series.
Public documents in a lawsuit Raydient Places + Properties (Raydient) filed against Nassau County all point toward one conclusion: Some in Nassau County government have been extorting one of its largest community partners.
Creation of the ENCPA
Raydient is the developer of the East Nassau Community Planning Area (ENCPA), a state-approved sector plan that was adopted by Nassau County in 2011.
The sector plan is a 24,000-acre, long-range, and mixed-use project that is memorialized in the county’s comprehensive plan. The plan has been heralded as a project that would “change the face of Nassau County” and spur much-needed economic development.
It has been evident since master planning began in 2007 that ENCPA would not only transform Nassau County from a rural to a suburban county, it would also help the county overcome many of the challenges it faced, such as balanced and mixed-use economic development, housing options and jobs.
ENCPA also would help mitigate the expected growth impacts by providing the county with land for civic facilities, like public open spaces, parks, fire and police stations and libraries.
The ENCPA divvied up funding responsibilities between Raydient and the county, and the two parties agreed that the county is responsible for provisions of individual civil facilities. At the same time, Raydient would donate all the land for those facilities.
The terms also dictate that Raydient would be responsible for everything else in the development, such as roads, sidewalks, streetlights and utilities, and it would be required to dedicate a little over half of the 24,000 acres to permanent conservation and open space.
While much of the conservation area is wetlands, about 4,000 acres of are uplands that would otherwise be developable.
As the project moved forward, Raydient commenced development within the first of the plans Detailed Specific Area Plan (DSAP), part of which would be later named “Wildlight.”
The county processed the plan for this first phase without incident or conflict.
Then came a small, but significant staffing change: Mike Mullin, the attorney who represented Raydient and Rayonier during the creation of the ENCPA, took a job as Nassau County Attorney.
By the time Raydient was ready to start development on the next DSAP, there had been a seismic shift.
When the company submitted its plan, which included an active adult community in another part of the ENCPA, Mullin argued Raydient was responsible for funding the construction of all civil facilities in addition to donating the land.
Mullin’s new position was a 180 from the terms he had successfully advocated for when he represented Raydient and Rayonier. His new position wasn’t only a divergence from the agreed-upon terms, but with county staff, including then-County Manager Shanea Jones.
The dispute unfolded in the spring and summer of 2017, culminating in a formal written demand from Mullin on behalf of Nassau County in November 2017 that falsely claimed Raydient had agreed to fund construction and maintenance for all civil facilities at the penalty of losing further development rights within the ENCPA — including in Wildlight Village, where development was already underway.
Nassau County’s Change in Position
Mullin, who had negotiated the ENCPA on behalf of Raydient and Rayonier, including the growth mitigation provisions, had changed the county’s position without warning
Between the start of the ENCPA and the second DSAP, Nassau County’s long-standing money problems came to a head.
In 2007, the county government had been warned by its own paid consultants, Fishkind & Associates, that “the capital budget is deficient.”
It was a warning that was reiterated multiple times and by various parties over the next several years, including Fitch Ratings in 2015, which said that the county’s “capital needs had been pay-go funded, but allocated resources appear inadequate to meet the needs beyond 2016.”
The county had found itself in a position where it had a growing deficit and no sustainable path to reverse the trend.
Mullin’s shift in employment brings up its own ethical questions, but the dispute between Raydient and Nassau County encompasses more than just ethics.
Was the county’s reversal the genesis of an attempt to extort one of its largest community partners? And how deep does this go?
Next: Part 2 of “Has Nassau County been shaking down one of its biggest community partners?”