'Ponte Vedra Central Park’ supporters gather ahead of county commission meeting

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Frank Levene believes the concept of a “Ponte Vedra Central Park” is a vision worth fighting for, and he’s urging others in the community to join him in his crusade and ultimately oppose the planned development of the Oak Bridge Club property.

Levene, a London native who plans to retire in Ponte Vedra, hosted about 20 people in support of the public park initiative last week at his house in the Hidden Oaks neighborhood that abuts the part of the golf course slated for development. The group, which wants to purchase the property in question and preserve it as a community park, most prominently discussed its strategy and mobilization effort ahead of the Jan. 16 county commission hearing, which features the county’s final deliberation on the development plans.

To be held at 9 a.m. at the St. Johns County Auditorium in St. Augustine, the hearing features the Oak Bridge matter as items No. 3 and 4 on the agenda. Golf course owner Alta Mar is seeking the county’s approval of zoning and land use changes that would allow the company to sell six holes of the club’s golf course for development into an age restricted residential community (55+) up to 330 units and four acres of commercial uses with a maximum of 15,000 square feet. The Planning and Zoning Agency (PZA) unanimously recommended approval of the Oak Bridge applications in December.

Levene shared with meeting attendees that he and other park representatives recently met with a few of the county commissioners ahead of the hearing to share their vision for the park, which includes multi-sport fields, a dog park, a community playground, exercise paths, a picnic area and botanical gardens. The group argues that no such space is available for residents and that additional residential density is the worst possible outcome for Ponte Vedra.

Levene and company shared these concerns about the development at the Jan. 11 gathering at Levene’s house, citing worries about safety as a result of increased traffic, decreased property values and a hit to Ponte Vedra’s unique nature.

“You’re about to see Daytona Beach up in here,” said Cindey Nordman, one of the group’s other leaders and a local realtor who shared that the community park organization was incorporated in May and received its tax-exempt status in June.

Attendees at the meeting also expressed concerns about loss of wildlife, loss of green space for the next generation of Ponte Vedra residents and an overall loss of community.

One meeting attendee voiced a concern about flooding in Ponte Vedra since the area is already flood-prone, she said. She questioned where the water is ultimately going to go when more and more development takes place.

Levene said they asked the commissioners many of these questions, but they didn’t have answers.

“The county should have the leadership and the moral and ethical standing to say irrespective of all the legalities, ‘This needs to be done properly,’” he said. “You can’t just rush through this. How can they get to this point, and they’re still not sure about issues that are fundamental? It’s disgraceful.”

The group’s ultimate hope is to stall the county’s approval process so that it can gather more funding and mobilize more volunteers for the park campaign. David Miller of Alta Mar Holdings, the owner of the golf club, has said he will maintain a dialogue with the community park representatives, even with the zoning changes, if they can raise enough money in the necessary timeframe to purchase the property.

Levene said the group has retained the services of local attorney Jane West, who will speak on behalf of the group for 10 minutes during the hearing. Every other member of the group will have three minutes during public comment.

Levene and the other group leaders encouraged meeting attendees to also contact the commissioners and spread the group’s message via word of mouth and distribution of brochures. The community park group plans to wear green at the hearing to present a unified approach.

“A lot of work has been done in creating a foundation,” said Levene. “It’s a legacy worth fighting for, for the greater good of the community and for our children and children’s children.”

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