Growth, Development & NE Florida Housing Market

This northeast nook of the Sunshine State is in transition. The winds of change are blowing, harder than ever.

A Look Back & Glimpse Ahead In Northeast Florida

Since the pandemic emerged, more people around the nation have been reconsidering where they want to live, and plenty pick Florida. Some keen on making a move, however, have been bumping into heightened hurdles to buy a home in Florida and other Southern states. With low levels of housing inventory, fewer homes for sale has created greater marketplace competition for buyers. Affordability is also a growing problem, with rising home prices.

5-Year Decline In Available Housing Inventory

The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR), in their latest annual report, shows the decline of housing inventory supply for last five years (2016 to 2020), see below. By 2020’s year end, the months supply of new construction homes in northeast Florida dropped to low of 1.6 months, while previously-owned existing home supply dropped to just 1.5 months

Northeast Florida Association of Realtors housing inventory five year trends through 2020.
SOURCE: Northeast Florida Association of Realtors
NEFAR’s 2021 Housing Forecast

The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors offered this outlook for the year 2021:

“As we look to 2021, signals suggest buyer demand will remain elevated and tight inventory will continue to invite multiple offers and higher prices across much of the housing inventory. Mortgage rates are expected to remain low, helping buyers manage some of the increases in home prices and keep them motivated to lock in their housing costs for the long term. These factors will provide substantial tailwinds for the housing market into the new year.”

SOURCE: Northeast Florida Association of Realtors

Below is NEFAR historical months supply of inventory dating further back to the year 2004, for a longer historical perspective. Plus chart showing January 2021 at 1.4 months supply of inventory, down 57.6% compared to a year ago.

Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR) months supply of home inventory, January 2021.
Northeast Florida Real Estate — Low Supply of Available Homes
Amelia Island – Nassau County Assoc. of Realtors

Similar low inventory is also being reported in the Amelia Island – Nassau County MLS. Data released Feb. 19, 2021 for the prior month of January 2021 indicated months supply of single-family homes was down (-62.2%) to 1.4 months supply (223 active listings). This compared to 3.7 months supply last year in January 2020 (490 active listings). The median time to contract for single-family homes in January 2021 dropped to 16 days (-71.9%), vs. 57 days a year ago in Jan. 2020.

As a coastal county, one of the biggest attractions in Nassau County is access to Amelia Island’s beaches and the surrounding waterways. The barrier island’s Atlantic Coast seashore is about a half hour’s drive for those living in the county near I-95.

Amelia Island Beach Access, Nassau County, Florida
Amelia Island Beach Access (Nassau County, FL)
Nassau County School District

Another attraction for newcomer families is the school system. Nassau County’s public school district also continues to be one of the highest graded of Florida’s 67 districts. The Florida Department of Education’s latest published data on district grades assigned Nassau County, FL an “A” grade in both 2018 and 2019. Nassau County’s schools total earned points placed it 4th highest in the state.

Nassau’s Population Per Square Mile

In the last 20-year period (2000 to 2020), the population per square mile in Nassau County, FL has increased from 89 to 138 (a 55% increase). This is according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic & Business Research (BEBR). In 2020, Nassau County ranked #36 of Florida’s 67 counties for population per square mile.

Many more are anticipated to move to this northeast Florida coastal county in the current decade. A study was completed for Nassau County by TischlerBise (dated June 2020). This research was done for the County’s fiscal planning and evaluation of impact fees. The analysis estimated Nassau County’s population to increase by 31,304 people during the 10-year time period between 2019 to 2029.

Nassau — “At Precipice of Change”

Below is an excerpt of the opening statement published in the 2020 Nassau County, Florida Growth Trends Report. “While 2020 has been anything but typical, the fact remains that Nassau stands at the precipice of change. A change that will descend upon the community with or without blessing. According to the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Nassau grew by 3.25% last year (2018-2019). For perspective, out of 3,141 counties in the United States, Nassau ranked as the 40th fastest-growing county by percent growth for counties in the U.S. with a population over 10,000. This growth rate places Nassau in the top 1.5% of all counties in the Country.”

Traffic Backups A1A To/From Amelia Island

The area’s growth has already impacted local living in more ways than one. Those driving to and from Amelia Island along State Road 200/A1A at peak times of the day know this reality only too well.

Shave Bridge A1A Amelia Island traffic departing over intracoastal, heading west. Photo by AmeliaISlandiving.com magazine.
Shave Bridge A1A, Amelia Island traffic heading west (photo Feb. 2021)

The State Road 200/A1A corridor between I-95 and Amelia Island has been undergoing a Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT) construction project for about five years (with delays in finishing the road work). It’s often bumper to bumper traffic backing up well over a mile. However, even without lane closures, traffic still backs up at peak times.

This project is expanding State Road 200/A1A from four lanes to six lanes. FDOT recently indicated the roadway project will be completed before summer 2021 begins. Target finish dates are met with local skepticism, since past completion estimates were not met. When all roadway construction is finally gone, it will be interesting to see how much traffic flow actually improves. And for how long, considering the expected continuing growth of this area.

Nassau County Sheriff’s New Training Facility

Besides more people and more traffic, growth also brings more crime and need for increased public safety resources. Nassau County Sheriff, Bill Leeper, has been planning ahead for future growth. The Sheriff’s Office just had their groundbreaking on the County’s first Public Safety Training Center. A 40-acre site in Yulee off County Road 108, it’s a long-term project, and could take up to three decades to complete, depending on funding. The first phase will have a rifle range plus two pistol ranges, with estimated cost reportedly $1.75 million, while the full project’s cost has been estimated at $13 million. The complex is to provide training facilities for both the Sheriff’s Office and Nassau County Fire and Rescue. The plans include canine training area, shoot house, jail training facilities, fire training tower, obstacle courses, boating rescue and more.

Amelia Island, FL Visitor Growth

Besides people moving here, there’s also been remarkable Amelia Island visitor growth in the past 20 years. Millions are spent annually (revenue from bed taxes) for marketing Amelia Island as a tourism destination. Data reported by the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council (TDC) for year 2019, prior to the pandemic, estimated nearly one and a half million visitors came to Amelia Island. (This includes overnight stays, day trippers and those visiting friends and family).

Looking back two decades, according to the Amelia Island TDC (citing data from Downs & St. Germain Research), the number of visitors to Amelia Island was 755,400 in the year 2000, vs. 1,458,100 in 2019. Thus, the number of visitors has nearly doubled in past 20 years.

Hospitality — New Hotels Built

New hotels have risen on Amelia Island in recent years. This includes the biggest project built in decades. The super-sized structure, 37,000 square feet (two hotels under one shared roof), has been under construction for about a year and a half in the city of Fernandina Beach near Main Beach.

New hotel development, construction. Fernandina Beach, Atlantic Ave.

Around the time of the hotel project groundbreaking back in November 2019, the head of Amelia Island’s Convention & Visitors Bureau, Gil Langley, had indicated it was the largest addition of rooms to the market in 21 years (since The Inn at Amelia Island Plantation opened).

Another new hotel also under construction at Gateway To Amelia nears completion, as well. Both projects were initiated before the pandemic impacted the travel industry, especially disrupting corporate travel — meetings and conventions. How much business travel recovers with the popularity of Zoom and associated corporate savings realized by cutting “destination” conferences and meetings, remains to be seen.

Highest Nassau County Population Growth Area

“Based on the best available data to conceptually identify future growth areas,” Nassau County’s 2020 Growth Trends Report includes a map indicating areas in the county where the highest growth pockets are anticipated. For the nearer-term (zero to five years), see map below.

The purple shaded areas below indicate highest growth areas in immediate 0 to 5 year period.

Nassau County, FL highest growth areas in next five years (report dated June 2020).
Nassau’s Highest Anticipated Growth Areas (0 to 5 years)
New Nassau Elementary School Planned

A future new Nassau County elementary school is planned in vicinity of the Amelia Concourse and Nassauville Road (one of the areas shaded in purple on the above map). The county is donating 17 acres in this high growth residential area to the local Nassau County School District. As discussed and approved by unanimous vote of the Nassau County Board of Commissioners at a public meeting held in January 2021, local officials feel this site (see parcel map below outlined in red), is suitable for building a new two-story elementary school.

17-acre site, parcel map. New elementary school site, Nassau County, Florida near Amelia Concourse.
17-Acre Site of Future New Elementary School
Grocer Publix To Expand In Nassau

A new Publix grocery store is to be built in Nassau County, just east of I-95 in the East Nassau Community Planning Area ENCPA. Sleiman Enterprises announced they will develop this Publix at the new Crossings at Wildlight shopping center at the corner of FL-200 (AIA) and William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee. The Crossings development encompasses nearly 90,000 square feet on just under 17 acres. Construction was expected to begin in March 2021 (completion planned for Spring 2022).

Three New Restaurants To Open At Wildlight

Three new restaurants will be opening in the Wildlight’s Village Center this spring of 2021, according to a Skinner Bros. Realty’s news release issued March 3, 2021. The Decantery is opening its second location (the original one is on Centre Street in downtown Fernandina). A new restaurant, Añejo Cocina Mexicana is also planned, plus new corporate-owned Firehouse Subs.

55+ Adult Community Announced

Del Webb also recently announced they are planning to build a 55-plus adult living community in Wildlight, with walking trails, amenity center, pools, tennis courts, pickleball, and a dog park. According to Del Webb, this development project is the biggest to date for Wildlight in Yulee, located in close proximity to Interstate I-95. This community will reportedly have up to 660 single-family and villa homes to be built on lots sized 33 to 65 feet wide. Model homes are not expected to open until the first quarter of 2022.

Tributary PUD, 3,200 Residential Dwelling Units

Another huge development project is Tributary, located about a mile and a half west of Interstate 95 in Nassau. Tributary (formerly known as Three Rivers DRI & PUD), covers 1,546 acres and is approved for 3,200 residential dwelling units, to be built in two phases. Tributary includes 500,000 square feet of retail space, 250,000 square feet of industrial space, 50,000 square feet of office space, and 300 dry boat storage slips. Tributary will have a 40-acre park, trails, and eventually be the site of a future new school. The development broke ground about a year ago, and Tributary model homes are expected to open in March 2021.

Northeast Florida Residential Building Permits

The number of single-family residential building permits issued in the northeast Florida region during the year 2020 was 12,555. This includes the counties of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, and Clay, as reported by the Northeast Florida Builders Association (NEFBA). That number was up over 21% compared to the previous year in 2019.

Nassau County 2021 Building Permits

In 2021, permits to build homes were off to a strong start. In January 2021, 97 single-family building permits were issued, according to the Nassau County Building Dept. (That’s more than double the number issued a year ago in January 2020 (46). In February 2021, 105 single-family permits were issued. In both months the bulk of permits were for home construction valuations in the $250K to $500K range.

According to the Northeast Florida Builders Assoc., the year 2020 had the third-highest number of single-family residential building permits issued during the last 20 year period. The peak of permits in the last two decades happened in 2005 (at the height of the previous real estate boom), when 17,753 permits were issued. The low was hit in 2011 when the market hit bottom in the aftermath of the real estate crash/financial crisis and “Great Recession” years, when only 3,152 permits were issued in northeast Florida.

With growth is the added challenge in emergency situations to safely and expediently evacuate Nassau County residents. There were three mandatory evacuations of Amelia Island between 2016 to 2019, triggered by hurricanes Matthew (October 2016), Irma (September 2017), and Dorian (September 2019).

Some residents are concerned with the amount of growth that’s already taken place, yet so much more is anticipated. More and more people adds pressure on government resources and citizen services, as well as natural resources. And in particular, Amelia, an environmentally-sensitive barrier island.

Only 7% Of Nassau County Preserved

As one of Florida’s 67 counties, Nassau has preserved far less land for conservation compared to other counties. According to the North Florida Land Trust:

“Only 7% of Nassau County’s land has been preserved for conservation. The average Florida county is 29%.

SOURCE: North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) news release 9/3/2020
“Amelia Forever” Land Preservation

With undeveloped areas of Amelia Island dwindling, the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT), a non-profit, has been buying up a selection of Amelia Island properties to save them from development. The “Amelia Forever” initiative by the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) encourages donations, and continues in 2021 to acquire land for preservation. Learn about the NFLT’s mission to acquire and preserve land on Amelia Island. See related article — “Land Preserved In American Beach.”

Nassau County’s CLAM Plan

North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) was retained by Nassau County to help identify land that should be preserved county-wide “to mitigate the anticipated impact of future development,” with goal to provide similar recreational and experiences that other Florida county governments provide. “Nassau County is currently behind the trend for conservation, being in the bottom ten counties in the state of Florida for conserved acres, and is in need of updates and revisions to its land development regulations,” according to the CLAM Plan dated November 3, 2020. ( See Nassau County’s Conservation Lands Acquisition & Management Manual and Conservation Plan). The plan was prepared by Marc Hudson, the Dir. of Strategic Conservation at NFLT.

With the challenges growth brings, Nassau County also has several other initiatives, see links below for further information:

Also review Nassau County Planning & Economic Opportunity Dept.’s Nassau County, Florida Growth Trend Report 2020

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