Ponte Vedra Coalition meeting hosts Outpost Q & A session and welcomes new director of Parks and Recreation

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The Ponte Vedra Beach Coalition hosted two representatives of GATE Petroleum to answer community questions on behalf of the Outpost development on Monday, July 29. Afterward, the Coalition welcomed Doug Bataille as new Director of St. Johns County Parks and Recreation. 

The Q & A session comes two weeks before the Aug. 15 meeting with the Planning and Zoning Agency to portions of the Outpost uplands to be changed from Conservation to Residential A. 

The proposed development site for Vista Tranquila is located at the end of Neck Road and is approximately 100 acres adjacent the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Attendees of the meeting were concerned about possible traffic increases, pedestrian safety and damage to the surrounding wetlands. Ellen Avery-Smith, an attorney representing GATE Petroleum from Rogers Towers, and Kim Allerton, an environmental scientist associated with Environmental Resource Solutions, responded to community concerns. 

Regarding the upcoming PZA hearing, Avery-Smith said multiple environmental agencies have reviewed the property, including scientists under the county’s jurisdiction. 

“The county has independent environmental staff that are professional environmental scientists who have verified that there are no significant habitats on the property,” said Avery-Smith.

According to a recent statement by environmental division manager Jan Brewer, although it is factual that the habitats outlined in the County Comprehensive Plan Policy provisions of imperiled habitats provided by Florida Natural Areas Inventory were verified to not be on the property — Avery-Smith’s statement is broadly defined. 

“So, the County the term ‘Significant Natural Communities Habitat’ has a very narrow, specific definition and one not to be interpreted to mean the property being reviewed has no viable or significant attributes,” Brewer said. 

The inventory includes six habits; beach dunes, coastal grasslands/ coastal strand, xeric hammock, maritime hammock, sandhill and scrub. The majority habitat found on the property was “mesic hammock.”

A few residents brought up possible traffic problems including concern that the area already suffers from congestion and the added homes could cause extra crowding. In addition, some residents felt Neck Road to be hazardous for pedestrians because area doesn’t have sidewalks and thought there was a fire risk due to the congestion and surrounding vegetation. 

In response, GATE said they were looking to improve traffic conditions with the help of their traffic engineer. The proposal would be to add left turn lanes going westbound on Micklers Road and another turn lane improvement eastbound. Avery-Smith also suggested that some residents weren’t in agreement for a sidewalk, preventing one being built. Concerning fire risks and emergency access, Avery-Smith said Vista Tranquila will be up to code. 

“This PUD for fire protection is within its terms,” said Avery-Smith. “All of these homes have to be built for specific codes to withstand fire. They also have to keep the vegetation trimmed within their yards and not the upland buffers which have been provided, those are going to remain in their natural state.”

Along with the Q & A session, the Coalition meeting also hosted guest speaker Doug Bataille, the recently appointed director of St. Johns County Parks and Recreation. Bataille was previously the director at Knox County Parks and Recreation in Tennessee. He spoke to the audience about a few of his plans for the department and answered questions. Bataille said maintenance, long-term goals and new modes of funding for parks were objectives he was working toward. 

“One thing I noticed was a lot of our ball parks were really, really nice, kept at a really high level,” Bataille said. “Some of the beach access points and boat access points, not so much. That is part of our restructuring and maintenance (to) put more resources toward those facilities so it will help them level up a bit.”

Bataille has freed up some services Parks and Recreation has previously provided, like “taking care of right of ways,” which he now contracts out. “It’s allowed us to focus on our efforts a little more on the parks side of things,” he said.

In addition, he developed a “five-year plan” which he hopes will prioritize a few projects when funding becomes available. 

Lastly, Bataille said he is working toward creating a “park foundation” which will help subsidize the department’s budget with donations. 

“In Knox county in 10 years we were able to raise $6 million for the system,” Bataille said. “A lot of time folks with resources like helping out the community. The foundation is a vehicle that they can donate to and have the insurance to have third-party oversight.”

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