Outpost, Vilano development proposals topics of Beaches Coalition meeting



Two controversial development proposals – both of which have resident groups organized in opposition – were among the items discussed at the Aug. 22 meeting of the Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition meeting.

Save Guana Now co-founders Gary Coulliette and Nicole Crosby outlined their group’s opposition to the 77-home Vista Tranquila development proposed for the Outpost, located at the end of Neck Road and adjacent to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Ultimately, they said, their group would like to see the land made available for permanent preservation. Save Guana Now is currently working on raising awareness and fundraising efforts in order to fight the proposed development.

The second main topic of discussion regarded Save Our Vilano, a grassroots organization opposed to the proposed WaterMarke Beachcomber project that would build a hotel, beach villas and resort facilities on Coastal Highway approximately 1.5 miles north of Vilano Town Center. At the Aug. 4 meeting of the St. John’s County Planning & Zoning Agency, the PZA board voted 5 to 1 in favor of recommending that the Board of County Commissioners approve transmittal of the project.

Coalition Secretary and former County Commissioner Mary Kohnke expressed concern about last-minute changes made to the developers’ proposal. At the Aug. 4 hearing, the developers’ attorney presented the changes on a photocopied sheet that had words crossed out and handwritten changes inserted on it.

“When this kind of thing happens…it’s the chairman’s job and the attorney’s job to stop the meeting then and there and say, ‘I’m sorry, we cannot continue, you must have your material in…and the meeting would’ve stopped until everything was cleaned up sometime in the future,” Kohnke said.

Kohnke also noted that attorney Jane West, who represented Save Our Vilano, was given only 10 minutes to speak at the hearing.

PZA Board Member Dick Williams – the lone member to vote against recommending approval – attended Monday’s coalition meeting, however, and noted that there had been a meeting between the attorneys to discuss how much time they would get to speak.

Also present was Steve Magiera, a member of the WaterMarke development team. According to Magiera, West was notified of Watermarke’s changes the day before the hearing, after the developers were advised by the county attorney on how to proceed.

“If we would have changed our application, it would have deferred the meeting,” Magiera said. “We didn’t want to do that. They instructed us the best thing to do would be to walk it on the floor.”

The changes presented at the Aug. 4 PZA hearing included a scaling back of the project.

“Listening to the residents, we knew density was a concern and traffic was a concern,” Magiera said. “We decided it was in everybody’s best interest for us to reduce the number of hotel rooms from 130 to 120 and bring the villas down from essentially 79 to 50.”

Watermarke also reduced the amount of commercial square footage for resort amenities, he said. Magiera pointed out, however, that the property is already zoned for 79 residential units, and will be developed at some point.

“I think everybody is so used to seeing it sitting there vacant and neglected that they think it’s going to stay that way,” Magiera said. “That’s not an option anymore. It’s going to be used for what it’s currently approved for or what we think is a better answer for Vilano, for St. Johns County and for St. Augustine.”