After Judge Michael Traynor of the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court ordered that the Outpost case involving St. Johns County and Ponte Vedra Corporation (PVC) be lifted out of abeyance in January 2018, the county has since filed a motion to dismiss an amended complaint from PVC, and the Gate subsidiary has filed a motion for a partial summary judgement.
PVC is seeking to build a 66-home residential community called Vista Tranquila on the 99-acre conservation property known as the Outpost, which is located at the end of Neck Road and adjacent to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. PVC believes St. Johns County has stonewalled the company by refusing to offer an administrative interpretation on the Outpost’s conservation designation.
In its most recent motion, the county argued that PVC's amended complaint asked the court to rule on local land use matters that are not final, and that an administrative interpretation will not provide a mechanism for PVC's property to be amended from conservation to residential. The county stated that each count of the complaint should be dismissed entirely by the court, which has yet to make a ruling.
Count I of PVC’s amended complaint has been re-titled to "Declaratory and Injunctive Relief PVC's Right to Processing Under Existing Comp Plan," which is an effort by PVC to submit its proposal for land development under the county's existing comprehensive plan. Count II, described as "essentially new" by St. Johns County, states that PVC has a right to a formal and appealable response to its request for an administrative interpretation.
Count III has been updated to state that PVC's proposed development requires an adjustment to the Future Land Use Map of the county's Comprehensive Plan. Finally, Count IV asks the county to address PVC’s administrative interpretation requests, and alleges that the county has deprived PVC of "substantive due process" by stripping it of "final agency action from which PVC could appeal."
PVC is seeking a partial summary judgment from the court. PVC attorney Amy Boulris explained that a partial judgement requests the judge to rule on something that's legally clear enough to be decided without a trial.
"In making this motion for partial summary judgement, what we're saying is our right to have a response to our request for administrative interpretation … is clear enough under the county regulations for the judge to rule on," Boulris said. "That piece — whether or not we're entitled to a response — that's clear enough without having to do a trial. We're asking the judge to rule just on that piece."
Nicole Crosby, the co-founder of nonprofit organization Save Guana Now, said the partial summary motion was "another regurgitation of their original allegations" and another attempt to circumvent public hearings. Additionally, Crosby contended that PVC’s attorneys are writing their own rules and avoiding the public process.
"Their lawsuit is based on the county's denial of an administrative interpretation of the comprehensive plan," Crosby said. "According to our attorney, requesting a land use change for property designated conservation is not the purpose of an administrative interpretation. That's what a public hearing is for."
Boulris, however, said PVC is trying to conform its proposed development with the current comprehensive plan.
"Ponte Vedra Corporation has not ever sought a change to the existing comp plan," she said. "But rather, has been trying to get a reliably formal answer from the county concerning the consistency of its proposed development with existing comprehensive plan policies."
A hearing on PVC’s motion for partial summary judgment is scheduled for October.
Guana Lake water quality
In related news, the GTM Research Reserve recently released preliminary findings on the water quality of Guana Lake, located near the Outpost property.
The study, according to Crosby, revealed "concerning water quality conditions" and high levels of bacteria and nitrogen in both the lake and river. Crosby suggested that fertilizer run-off from the 66 homes proposed for the proposed development would adversely impact the water quality of Guana Lake.