Court denies petition by critics of proposed Gate station

Project currently in permitting stage

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Plans for a new Gate convenience store, gas station and car wash in Ponte Vedra have survived a recent court challenge, and the project continues through the environmental permitting process.

On Dec. 17, the Circuit Court of the 7th Judicial Circuit denied a petition to nullify a May 12 decision by the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners that had denied an appeal of sign and architectural variances granted to the project.

Had the petition been successful, it would not have stopped the project but rather would have moved the approval process back a step. The court’s authority was limited to the validity of the county’s denial of the appeal and did not encompass the points of disagreement between the County Commission and critics of the project.

The project is designed to create a convenience store, gas station with 24 fueling positions and an express car wash at 330 A1A North within the Ponte Vedra Overlay District. Included in the project are the creation of a Fresh Kitchen restaurant and a Yobe Frozen Yogurt shop.

The 6.79-acre parcel is part of a 31.4-acre tract owned by PV Commercial Properties and is adjacent to The Shoppes at Ponte Vedra.

The project has drawn opposition from some residents of nearby Dolphin Cove and C.X.C., the limited liability company that initially appealed the variances and subsequently filed the unsuccessful petition. The petition lists C.X.C. as the owner of The Shoppes of Ponte Vedra.

Critics say much of the property is designated as wetlands and that signage and building size do not conform to the architectural code for the district.

Of these issues, signage figured most prominently in the appeal filed by C.X.C.

The district’s signage regulations limit businesses to one wall sign no larger than 24 square feet and one ground sign no larger than 80 square feet for each face. When there is more than one business, each may have a wall sign no larger than eight square feet.

In its application for a zoning variance, PV Commercial Properties requested an 82-square-foot Gate wall sign, a 78-square-foot car wash wall sign, a 65-square-foot Fresh Kitchen wall sign and a 46-square-foot Yobe Frozen Yogurt wall sign. Signs were also being planned for the fuel canopy.

In addition, the business requested authorization for an additional ground sign: one for the gas station and one for the car wash. These signs would not exceed 32 square feet per face, a size that may or may not comply with district regulations. The regulations are contradictory in this matter.

PV Commercial Properties contended that, because the business is set back from the road, signs within the approved sizes would be illegible from S.R. A1A. C.X.C. countered that the set-back was a “self-created” hardship, the result of a restrictive covenant the property owner signed when it sold the parcel containing The Shoppes of Ponte Vedra to C.X.C.

The county also granted a variance allowing a 145-foot car wash building, exceeding the 120-foot limit. The extra length would be used to house some of the equipment.

On Dec. 18, 2019, the county Architectural Review Committee approved the design. On Jan. 6, 2020, the Ponte Vedra Zoning and Adjustment Board approved the variances. The commission denied the appeals May 12 and approved the variances.

On another front, a change.org petition asks the County Commission to reverse its decisions. The petition, which has been signed by 9,768 people at this writing, addresses wetlands concerns held by some of the project’s critics.

According to the county’s property appraiser website, more than 86% of the total tract is designated as wetlands, though 3.09 units are described as vacant commercial.

In a Recorder article published in July, county Environmental Department Director Jan Brewer was quoted as saying the wetlands developed after commercial use. Sometime after 1999, settling ponds there laid fallow and wetland vegetation began to populate the site. How much, if any, of this area is exempt from wetlands protections on the basis of its origins may have to be determined.

Asked whether there are any wetlands issues regarding the property, a spokesperson from Gate Petroleum Co. responded via email that, “We have received approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and should soon complete the review and approval process with the St. Johns River Water Management District.”

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