The 2020 Census shows the population of Green Cove Springs increased by 42 percent compared to 2010. As a result, the number of Green Cove residents went from 6,908 to 9,786, making it the largest municipality in Clay County.
The title was previously held by Orange Park. Even though the town did not see the boom of Green Cove Springs, it did see a population increase of 8 percent.
The county saw 14 percent growth overall. The population of Penney Farms is up from 749 to 821. Keystone Heights had 96 more residents in 2020 compared to 2010.
Green Cove Growth
Green Cove Springs Mayor Edward Gaw says city leaders expected this type of growth due to location, the St. Johns River, and the school system.
Clay County sits south of Duval and west of St. Johns County. “Being close in proximity to those two areas, we’ve seen our growth increase accordingly,” said Gaw.
First Coast Expressway
The First Coast Expressway is a Florida Department of Transportation project. It is a multi-lane toll road that will eventually connect I-10 on Jacksonville’s far west side to I-95 in St. Johns County. This means that drivers coming in from the west won’t need to travel through Jacksonville to get to Clay County, St. Johns County, or points farther south.
The part of the roadway that connects I-10 to Blanding Blvd (S.R. 21) is open. The phase that runs through Clay connecting Blanding to S.R. 16 and from there to C.R. 209 is expected to be done in 2025. The entire project has a 2030 completion date.
Even though the project is not complete, Gaw says Green Cove Springs is poised to see the benefits. “It’s going to be much more efficient, and it’s right at our front doorstep.” He went on to say, “We’re still a way off from having utility on that road. Right now, you have a reliance on US-17 to get to any commerce centers. That road will ease some of the congestion on US-17, which runs right through downtown Green Cove.”
But Green Cove is not waiting until the First Coast Expressway is finished to make driving through the area more efficient. “US-17 is an established road. That pipeline is not going to get any bigger. But through the use of technology, we now have the ability to increase the throughput on U.S. 17.”
He says by using A.I. systems, traffic timing improves. “That will allow us to not move faster but move more in a rate of time.” They included some technical improvements in the Downtown Master Plan. That plan was approved at the April 19 city council meeting.
“Our response as a small community with significant growth is that we will embrace those technologies that keep the quality of life. Because in the end, everybody’s metric is quality of life,” said Gaw.
More Growth Expected
More growth means more tax revenue.
“Yes, population increase as we’ve seen will add to the ad valorem taxes of Green Cove, which is a good thing. But concurrent with that, you have to have infrastructure improvements that will allow that population increase to experience the same quality of life as the people that have been here.”
He says there’s a delicate dance between growth and not decreasing the quality of life. “The small-town feeling is one of those things that everyone wants to keep. The question is how we keep it in the path of that growth.”
The mayor says 10,000 homes are under plan for Green Cove and the immediate surrounding areas in Clay County. “It’ll take some time to phase those homes in and get them under construction, but it will give the city and the county time to anticipate not only schools but road requirements.”
Speaking of Schools
Green Cove Springs is getting a new school, Spring Park Elementary. It will serve grades K-6 with a capacity of 862 students.
A Clay County District Schools spokesperson says this will be the county’s 43rd school. Spring Park Elementary will sit on 20 acres of land on County Road 315. Groundbreaking on the new school is set for next week.
Gaw describes the school’s namesake as “one of the unique assets and best kept secrets that set Green Cove above and beyond.”
Spring Park is on the St. Johns River. The spring runs into the river.