A proposal to build a 77-home development on 99 acres of Ponte Vedra land known as The Outpost is drawing opposition from both local residents and environmental groups.
Located at the end of Neck Road and adjacent to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, the property is owned by Gate Petroleum. Last month, the Ponte Vedra Corp. – a subsidiary of Gate – submitted an application to rezone the land from rural to residential in order to build the proposed housing development, to be known as Vista Tranquila.
Neck Road residents Nicole Crosby and Gary Coulliette, however, have launched the “Save Guana Now” campaign to stop the development and preserve the property. Their opposition is outlined on the website www.saveguananow.org.
The group maintains that such a development would have a far-reaching impact on the environment and wildlife in the area, including migrating birds, threatened species and species of special concern. Both the Northeast Florida Sierra Club group and the Florida Audubon have also expressed public opposition to the project.
“I think it’s hard for many people to understand, you can’t take away a parcel of land that’s continuously used by wildlife and just figure that they’ll go somewhere else,” said Janet Stanko, chair of the Northeast Florida Sierra Club group. “They can’t go anywhere else, and some of these animals need a certain foraging area and when you cut back that foraging area, it means that they can’t find enough food, enough viable mates.”
In addition, the environmental impact of potential pollution from fertilizer, pesticides and run-off could contaminate the GTMNERR waterways, Crosby noted. The property includes more than 22 acres of wetlands and borders Guana Lake. The Vista Tranquila Master Development Plan proposes building a number of lakeside homes.
“It’s going to be catastrophic environmentally – not only because of the destruction of habitat on the 70 acres itself where they want to put in those 77 houses, but also because of the effect it’s going to have on the surrounding Guana Preserve and even the National Estuarine Research Reserve that Lake Guana flows into,” she said.
On top of the environmental impact, Crosby said she and neighbors living on Neck Road are concerned about traffic and safety. The proposed subdivision has only one entry point for the neighborhood via Neck Road – a two-lane road that dead ends at The Outpost property.
“Proposing a major development at the end of a no-outlet street that already has 116 homes on it is a deeply flawed plan,” Crosby said. “We’d have an additional 800 car trips per day on Neck Road, which would not only create traffic build-up, but would compromise car and pedestrian safety for the entire length of the road.”
Coulliette noted that there is already a lot of congestion at the intersection of Neck Road and Mickler Road. With the added traffic such a development would generate, he’s concerned about what would happen in the event of an emergency evacuation.
This isn’t the first time the Outpost’s owners have proposed developing the property.
“The county received an application in 2014 for the property to be recognized with a Residential C land use designation, which could have allowed up to approximately 306 homes with a companion rezoning,” St. Johns County Director of Communications Michael Ryan said. “In July, asserting their interpretation of a Residential C land use designation, the land owners filed a rezoning application requesting approximately 77 homes. That application is currently under review at the staff level.”
The Save Guana Now group would like to see the land made available for permanent preservation, and for the North Florida Land Trust to have an opportunity to secure funding so the land can be purchased.
Crosby said the group has received support from people who live outside the neighborhood as well.
“I think the thing that surprised me the most about all this is when we started getting the emails flooding in after we posted the website, she said. “I was so surprised at how many people are supporting us that aren’t even living in neighborhoods that are directly impacted by it. It’s really been gratifying to learn how many people really do not want to see that land destroyed, and it is conservation land after all.”