St. Johns County approved revised construction plans for a proposed 22-lot subdivision on Ponte Vedra Boulevard last week, clearing the way for the developer to begin construction.
The county announced Sept. 29 that it had approved GreenPointe Communities LLC’s revised construction plans for Ponte Vedra Beach Preserve, a proposed subdivision to be built on a 17.3-acre parcel located 1044 Ponte Vedra Boulevard. GreenPointe had revised the plans after more than 18 months of debate and discussion as to whether the development required a variance related to the amount of fill dirt that would be used in the proposed project’s elevation.
GreenPointe’s revised plans call for using stem walls rather than fill dirt to establish building pads for the homes. While the new construction plans may be appealed through Oct. 31, GreenPointe spokesperson Susie Wiles said the company plans to begin construction “right away.”
“We’re gratified at the county’s action,” she said. “We’ve been open and transparent each step of the way. We are planning to proceed right away and look forward to building a new community in Ponte Vedra.”
Wiles said GreenPointe plans to withdraw its application for a fill variance, the approval of which had been appealed by a neighboring resident. Attorney Jane West, who represents neighbor Nancy Condron in her appeal, told the Ponte Vedra Recorder that her client has not decided whether to appeal the revised construction plans.
“We are certainly exploring all options,” West said.
To fill or not to fill
The controversy surrounding the proposed Ponte Vedra Beach Preserve follows a previous legal dispute regarding an easement that granted the property beach access via a path on Condron’s property. In that case, the easement was found to be valid and applicable to future residents of the Ponte Vedra Beach Preserve.
The issue became further complicated by the amount of fill required by the St. Johns County Land Development Code to facilitate drainage – an amount that exceeded the fill limitations established by the Ponte Vedra Zoning District. After receiving confirmation from the county that a variance would be required, GreenPointe applied for the variance in March 2015.
In May 2015, the Ponte Vedra Zoning and Adjustment Board considered the matter. Due to a board member’s absence, however, the matter ended with a 3-3 tie vote, which legally constituted a denial. The developers appealed the denial to the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, who in June 2016 remanded the decision back to the PVZAB. The following month, the PVZAB approved the variance on a 4-3 vote – an approval that was appealed by Condron.
During the remainder of 2015, the BOCC continued the appeal of the variance twice. At the same time, GreenPointe contended that a variance wasn’t needed because language in county ordinances contained an exception that would allow the additional fill in order to meet county codes.
In April 2016, the county issued an administrative interpretation stating the exception language did not apply to GreenPointe’s current application and would only apply if the developer could prove that no alternative methods of construction were available. It was that legal opinion, county officials said, that prompted the developers to re-engineer the project and submit revised construction plans.
But while GreenPointe has received approval for the revised plans and could begin construction at any time, West maintains that her client’s appeal is still on the table.
“It is my client’s opinion that her pending appeal still must be heard by the BOCC,” attorney West told the Recorder. “If the BOCC agrees with the determination that the re-engineered construction plans negate the need for a variance, then they may determine that the appeal is no longer ripe for their review. However, that determination should be made by BOCC, not county staff or the county attorney’s office.”
West also argued that the environmental concerns included in her client’s appeal have yet to be addressed.
“From what I understand, there is nothing in the re-engineered plans that change the run-off of nutrients and pesticides into the Guana River, which was one of the primary issues that prompted my client to appeal to begin with.”