St. Johns County, Florida Ordinance 2012-35

St. Johns County, Florida passed an ordinance in 2012 providing for the modification of design criteria and standards in “environmentally challenging locations” where typical road design standards are not feasible due to naturally occurring conditions that cause repeated damage or other challenges. The Florida Department of Transportation sets minimum design standards for roads within the state (as laid out in the Florida Greenbook1), but allows for “Design Exceptions” where it is necessary to deviate from design criteria. The ordinance creates a Design Exception for County-owned and -maintained roads in environmentally challenging locations. In instances where such an exception applies, minimum maintenance standards will differ from the general standards. The ordinance is intended to help reduce County maintenance costs for upkeep of roads in challenging areas, while also putting nearby landowners on notice that environmental conditions may affect their access and that they can expect non-standard road design and maintenance.

The ordinance creates a Design Exception that establishes new design criteria for existing county roads in environmentally challenging locations, meaning that these roads do not have to conform to the uniform design standards laid out in the Florida Greenbook. Environmentally challenging locations are defined as ones in which maintaining a typical road design or standard is infeasible or cost prohibitive due to naturally occurring conditions—such as repeated damage, or interference with maintenance efforts—or where standard maintenance of the road will adversely impact a protected resource. By resolution, the County can designate specific roads or portions of roads as roads located in these environmentally challenging locations to trigger the Design Exception. 

The ordinance also outlines a different understanding of “meaningful access”2 for users of these roads. If a road is found to be in an environmentally challenging location, access may still be considered “meaningful” even if the road is unpaved or intermittently paved; composed of sand, clay, muck, or other organic material; single-lane, or sub-standard or varying in width; limited in access by vehicle type or size; periodically naturally submerged or blocked; or unpredictably serviceable by emergency or public vehicles. As a result of these challenges, property owners who need to use the road are advised that they may need to use four-wheel drive, or accept that vehicle passage at times may be impossible.

The ordinance grounds its authority in Florida Statutes which direct local governments to limit public expenditures in areas subject to destruction by natural disasters3 or in coastal high hazard areas4. To that end, the ordinance asserts that the County has no affirmative duties to construct new roads, improve existing roads, or permit or construct new property in challenging or hazardous areas, although property owners may petition the County to abandon the road or to establish a Municipal Services Taxing or Benefit Unit (MSTBU)5 to generate funding for road improvements. The ordinance provides a standardized approach for balancing considerations of environmental conditions, repairs and maintenance costs, frequency of damage, and development and surrounding uses, to ultimately reduce road upkeep costs and user expectations regarding access in naturally degrading coastal areas.

Publication Date: December 4, 2012

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  • St. Johns County, Florida

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