Nassau County residents are divided over the school district’s decision to buy 10 acres of land in Yulee.
Those in favor see it as necessary to accommodate growth.
Those opposed are concerned that the vacant land sold for $1.4 million in May 2021 and now – less than a year later – a majority of the School Board members think it is worth 3.75 million taxpayer dollars.
Ten years ago, it was worth $250,000.
Government entities generally pay more than a private individual in land purchases, but the difference in this case has some people scratching their heads.
There has been no improvement to the property during the past 12 months, and no announcement of gold being found beneath the trees on the non-descript land.
Furthermore, the board doesn’t seem to have a firm plan for using the land and in addition it will present access problems because it is located on busy State Road 200.
Cindy Grooms is the only board member to show any curiosity about the rapid increase in value.
She began asking questions and when other residents also curious about the proposed purchase were stymied by the estimated cost of obtaining public records she made the extraordinary decision to pay for them herself.
After reviewing all the information she gathered, Grooms made a motion at the March 31 board meeting to rescind the existing offer to buy the property that had been made Jan. 13.
With the school superintendent and other board members clearly in favor, Grooms could not even get a second to her motion.
Grooms said there are three appraisals of the property pegging the value at anywhere from $1.4 million to $3.75 million.
But she does not think the appraisals compare similar properties, and says the higher figure, which is what the board offered, is for what the property would be worth if it were developed.
Developer Robert S. Allison of Progress North Florida LLC is the owner of the property. He purchased it May 17, 2021, from Gibson’s Home Store for $1.4 million. It had been sold to Gibson’s by the First Coast Community Bank in 2012 for $250,000.
Exactly one month after buying the land, Allison wrote Kathy Burns, the Nassau County school superintendent, offering to sell the land.
In his email, he said he planned to develop it into a commercial business park but had found there were problems with access because of Yulee Elementary School, which is across the street from the property, and suggested selling it to the school district for the “appraised fair market value.”
The Nassau County property appraiser’s website says the 9.36 acres of land is worth $374,400 — about a tenth of the price Nassau politicians plan to pay. Eye on Jacksonville called the appraiser, Mike Hickox, and he told us to submit questions in writing.
There has been rapid growth in Nassau County and like most of Florida it experienced a spurt in real estate values last year.
But doubters such as Alan Hopkins, an economist in Nassau, can’t account for a parcel of land more than doubling in value almost overnight.
“As an economists I recognize that the county population will close to double from 2018 to 2030.The corresponding need for schools will greatly increase. This demand is going to happen and we must prepare for it. However that is no excuse for this type of transaction at taxpayers expense without more transparency and scrutiny.
It seems very suspect that the property that sold for $1.3 million that had no improvements done on it all of a sudden would be worth over $3.7 million 9 months later.
Whatever amount the school board could save by paying a more reasonable price can be used for teacher salaries and facilities in the future. It will be needed.
“I think at the very least the school board should publish the 11-page analysis that was performed that they used to make this decision. Again I’m very curious how this was justified.”
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.
One of the questions Hopkins asks is, who negotiated the deal?
Eye is going to ask that, and other questions, to those involved.
As the board’s lawyer, Brett Steger, said at the last meeting, land is worth “what a willing seller and a willing buyer agree upon.”
It’s obvious the developer is willing to sell, but why are School Board members so willing to buy at that price?