An amicable end to the Outpost lawsuit between Ponte Vedra Corporation (PVC) and St Johns County was reached April 16, with all five county commissioners voting in favor for the settlement agreement.
The settlement came after a 2016 suit regarding the rezoning of the 99-acre parcel of land owned by the Ponte Vedra Corporation, a subsidiary of GATE Petroleum. The parcel is commonly referred to as the “Outpost,” which lies adjacent to the Guana Tolomato Matazas National Estuarine Research Reserve. PVC has plans for a 66-home residential community there called “Vista Tranquila.”
PVC argued in the lawsuit that the boundaries of the Outpost had been ambiguously labeled as Conservation by the county’s Future Land Use Comprehensive Plan and should be subject to change.
In the recent settlement, PVC agreed to keep the wetlands and a small portion of the uplands classified as conservation. The company will still seek a land use change for a portion of the land for “low density” residential development.
The local environmental advocacy group, Save Guana Now, claimed the lawsuit was only intended to bypass the public hearing process that comes with formally applying for a land use designation change. PVC has denied these claims.
Following a dismissal from the circuit court regarding PVC’s motion for a Partial Summary Judgement in December 2018, PVC recently moved to settle the rest of the lawsuit. According to Misty Skipper, vice president of marketing and communications for GATE, the company plans on filing the applications for the land use change and anticipates the public hearings to be held later this year.
“We're pleased that the Ponte Vedra Corporation and the county have dismissed what's left of the lawsuit, and that their settlement agreement contains no concessions or compromises from the county,” said Nicole Crosby, founder of Save Guana Now. “We welcome public hearings, however, we still remain hopeful that PVC will consider a resolution that is appropriate to the conservation designation of the land.”
According to the settlement agreement, PVC does have the option to withdraw the application at any time during the approval process.
In a statement released by PVC, however, Drew Frick, president of GATE Lands, said that he “looks forward to the process and public discussion.” Exactly when the hearings will happen has yet to be announced, although advocates for Save Guana Now said they have been a long time coming.
As far back as June 2014, PVC first discussed plans for a subdivision and the land use change at the Outpost. Now that the lawsuit has ended, the process to develop it can continue once again.