The Innlet at Ponte Vedra Condominium Association has filed a lawsuit against Dream Finders Homes, asking the court to force the developer to halt construction of a 21-home subdivision adjacent to the condos until the company abides by terms of a settlement agreement.
In its lawsuit, the condominium association charges that Dream Finders is refusing to abide by terms of a settlement agreement reached in 2016 to construct a brick wall 10 feet from the Innlet property line that would serve as a landscaping buffer and perpetual easement. The association wants the easement to visually negate the impact of the new development, which is known as The Palms at Old Ponte Vedra and situated on 10 acres of recently cleared land east of A1A and south of Corona Road.
“We felt that in order to protect our property, we had no choice but to come forward with the lawsuit,” said Nancy Horne, president of the Innlet at Ponte Vedra Condominium Association.
The Innlet is also asking the court to force the developer to stop construction to prevent further damage of its property. The condo residents contend that road damage due to recent construction and drainage of its stormwater retention ponds from the developer’s dewatering activities have impacted the community’s quality of life and decreased property values.
Batey McGraw, vice president of land for Dream Finders, said he could not comment on the lawsuit. He contended, however, that the development will add value to adjacent neighborhoods and the overall Ponte Vedra community, calling it a “world class project.” Homes in The Palms will range between 3,000 and 4,500 square feet, he said, with prices starting in the $900,000s and climbing towards $2 million. McGraw, a Ponte Vedra resident who lives off Solana Road, said he wouldn’t do anything to adversely affect the area.
“I’m not an outsider coming here to rape and pillage,” he said, adding that the company plans to begin building homes once infrastructure of the development is complete in late summer.
According to the complaint filed by Jane West, attorney for the condo association, negotiations between the two parties have been ongoing since 2014, a year after Dream Finders acquired the property. At the time of purchase, the developer did not have access to the property. In early 2014, The Innlet and Dream Finders consequently entered into a license agreement that granted the developer access to the association’s roadways for construction purposes and permanent ingress and egress for future neighborhood homeowners.
The license agreement was terminated in February 2015 after Dream Finders acquired a portion of land from local property owners to create a direct access road to the development. Despite the termination, however, certain obligations within the license agreement remained intact, including the construction of the brick wall to serve as a landscaping buffer and easement. According to the original agreement, the wall was supposed to be at least 10 feet off the association’s property, with the only exception being for preservation of trees, in which case the setback had to be at least five feet off the property.
In January 2016, the developer and the Innlet entered into its current agreement wherein the association pledged to support the direct access road and allow for limited construction traffic on the association’s roads, in exchange for a few concessions, including the implementation of the brick wall.
After construction on the development began in late December 2016, Horne said the condo community quickly realized the company would not be abiding by the agreement when it began building a retention pond that would not accommodate for the 10-foot buffer. The association has since attempted to resolve the issue with Dream Finders, suggesting to the company that it move the pond onto one of its lots. But the developer has not shown willingness to reach such a resolution and is proceeding with construction in violation of the agreement, said Horne, which is ultimately resulting in a lawsuit that the association doesn’t want.
“We’re not happy about taking on this major development company with all the money in the world,” said Horne. “We’re very small.”
John Hotes is the president of The Innlet at Ponte Vedra Beach Master Association, which manages the common grounds within The Innlet condominium community and adjacent Ponte Vedra by the Sea neighborhood. While Hotes didn’t wish to comment on the lawsuit, he did speak favorably about his experiences with Dream Finders over the past few years, specifically regarding the company’s management of the current direct access road into the development.
“They continued to look at options and miraculously, I think, came up with a solution that none of us ever dreamed of,” said Hotes. “All of these concessions they agreed to, including the buying of the three properties to eventually have a direct access off Corona, was totally contrary to every other developer I’ve ever seen.”
West said Dream Finders has 20 days to file a responsive pleading upon receiving the association’s complaint. The Innlet filed the lawsuit early in the development process, she said, with hopes that a resolution accommodating the original agreement can be reached.
“Our immediate goal is to make sure the terms of the agreement are adhered to,” said West, “and hopefully everyone will see eye to eye once again and go back to making sure that they get a 10-foot buffer in, as everyone negotiated.”