The two-year controversy over the potential sale and development of the back 40 acres of the Oak Bridge Club at Sawgrass’ golf course may finally reach a conclusion Tuesday, May 15, when the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) is scheduled to vote regarding its approval.
Originally scheduled for the BCC’s Jan. 16 meeting, the final vote on the proposal was postponed by the board with a request for further information.
“There’s no plan here,” Commissioner Jay Morris contended at the meeting. “I know what you want to do, or what you’re talking about doing, but I have no idea where it’s going to go. Where are you going to locate it? Whose backyard is it going to be in?”
As a result, Alta Mar Holdings LLC, which owns the Oak Bridge Club, was forced to revise its application.
“Specifically, what they asked us for is more specificity,” Alta Mar’s David Miller said. “What we didn’t have the first time was the location of buildings, the specific height the buildings were going to be, so that was really the biggest thing that the commissioners asked for. The second thing they asked for was a reduction in the number of variances we were requesting. We removed the parking variance that we were requesting, and we also removed the phasing variance we requested.”
According to Miller, the development of the land in question would not only improve the marketability of Oak Bridge’s golf course — which he contends to be in desperate need of repair — but it would also result in an increase in property values for those who reside in the Sawgrass Players Club community, which encompasses the course.
“People’s homes are often their largest stow of their personal wealth,” he said. “If your largest stow of personal wealth depreciated by 20 percent, because a golf course went foul in your backyard through the inaction of the BCC … Well, that’s why people are really motivated and mobilizing this time.”
The controversy over the development, however, has more to do with those living outside of the Players Club than those inside it. Residents of the neighboring Hidden Oaks subdivision, which abuts the portion of the course Alta Mar wishes to sell, have expressed concerns regarding traffic impacts and a potential decrease in their property values.
“We’ve always felt that the development was very intense — 330 (residential) units and 15,000 square feet of commercial,” said Frank Levene, an outspoken leader among Alta Mar’s opposition. “If the argument being made by the owner of the golf course is that they need to sell off that 40 acres to sustain the balance of the 12 holes, I don’t think it would require 330 units. You don’t need that level of money to sustain the golf course. It’s profit maximizing and development opportunity, really.”
Seeking an alternative solution, Levene and other detractors of the planned development had previously proposed turning the land in question into a public park instead, but due to a lack of funding and support for the idea, the group has since formed the Foundation for the Future of Ponte Vedra and refocused their mission.
“The park is still an aspiration, but there’s no point in talking about solutions if you haven’t got resolution around the issues being created by the proposed development,” Levene said. “Our goal is to ensure that all of the questions are being asked. We thought we’d focus on the open issues that are caused from the development being put forward, like the absence of a traffic study. We were also very disappointed by the (maximum building) height — 58 feet is very concerning for a lot of us living close by.”
Miller, who turned down the group’s offer of $6 million to purchase the land, said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of enthusiasm within the Sawgrass Players Club for the addition of a public park.
“Right now, they’re a gate-guarded community,” he said. “You have to give your name and they capture your license plate when you come through the gate. They’re not at all keen on the idea of having the public ingress into their community.”
As for traffic concerns, Miller said he thought it unlikely that the addition of a 55-plus, age-restricted community would add more traffic to A1A than a public park.
“The frontrunner to buy the property is Vicar’s Landing, as everybody knows, and they’ve done their own internal traffic analysis of their residents,” he said. “It’s just absolutely negligible, the impact that such a community has on the broader traffic issues of A1A.”
With the BCC’s final vote fast approaching, supporters on both sides of the issue are now rallying to make their voices heard while they still can. But while they may disagree on the specifics of how, both those for and against the development seem able to agree on one thing: The stakes are high.
The BCC hearing will take place in the St. Johns County Auditorium located at 500 San Sebastian View in St. Augustine. The Oak Bridge item will go before the County Commission no sooner than 2 p.m.