PVARC recommends approval of plans to replace Inn & Club’s Ocean House with two 3-story buildings


Despite public opposition, the Ponte Vedra Architectural Review Committee (PVARC) last week recommended unanimous approval of Ponte Vedra Corporation’s (PVC) plans to tear down its existing Ocean House at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and replace it with two 3-story, 43-foot-tall buildings consisting of 41 luxury resort units.

The controversy? The Ponte Vedra Zoning District regulations limit structures to two stories and a maximum height of 35 feet, and several residents attending the meeting argued this height limit should be maintained for the Ocean House to preserve the character of Ponte Vedra.

“We don’t want it to be another Atlantic Beach, another Miami,” said resident Pasquale Colombo at the Aug. 23 meeting. “When we got here, every house on the boulevard was a Cape Cod cottage. Now look what has happened. It doesn’t take much to transform what was once a very pleasant and small-town sort of atmosphere into a metropolis.”

PVC, a subsidiary of Gate Petroleum, contends the additional height and story is needed to meet federal and state regulations regarding base flood elevation, and to accommodate the demand for oceanfront lodging in Ponte Vedra. The existing Ocean House is currently comprised of one building that is 276 feet long and 31 feet high. The proposed buildings would both reach a maximum height of 43 feet and be 118.76 feet and 140.5 feet respectively in width.

According to the company, the state requirement is more stringent and dictates a base flood elevation that is approximately 7 to 8 feet higher than the existing ground surface. As a result, PVC representatives said the finished floor of the new Ocean House buildings would need to be raised from approximately 13 feet to approximately 20 to 21 feet. Consistent with this required increase, the company requested a non-zoning variance to allow the resort to raise the total height of the building by 8 feet, from the 35 feet to a maximum of 43 feet.

In addition to meeting these requirements, Gate Petroleum President John Peyton said that the renovations are needed to allow the company to build more suites, which are in high demand with the groups the resort entertains, especially during THE PLAYERS Championship. Lastly, he said the existing Ocean House is currently sitting on pilings, which he said is not sustainable from a business perspective.

PVC architect Mike Ramsey explained that the two proposed Ocean House buildings would feature 2-story elements on the ends of the structures that “sandwich” a 3-story portion in the middle. As a result, he said people coming from the north or south would see a 2-story building, explaining that the 3-story portion will only be visible head-on.

In addition, PVC attorney Ellen Avery Smith argued that the proposed Ocean House buildings would be compatible with the surrounding structures. She noted that there are 13 buildings within the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club complex that are taller than 35 feet, including the buildings immediately north and south of the Ocean House.

“I know people are concerned about building height and setting precedent,” said Avery Smith “This shows there’s no precedent to be set for the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. The building heights within the complex speak for themselves.”

The PVARC Board sympathized with the concerns of the residents but ultimately voted to recommend approval of the plans.

“My motion… would be to approve the non-zoning variance No. 1 to allow the height variance for reasons in large part due to the fact that they’re not necessarily creating a building that is so much larger than the surrounding buildings, which makes it compatible with the campus as a whole,” said PVARC Chair Sean Mulhall. “Also, it’s not the club’s fault that the elevation has gone up and forced them to build at a higher grade.”

Additional elements of the applications

The height increase was the most notable and controversial element of PVC’s non-zoning variance request that went before the PVARC, yet it wasn’t the only one.

Also included and recommended for approval was a request to allow 11,613 square feet of gross floor area per acre in lieu of the maximum allowance of 10,000 square feet, and a request to allow a building approximately 140 feet in length to be parallel to Ponte Vedra Boulevard. One of the proposed buildings is longer than the 120-foot maximum length provided in the Ponte Vedra Overlay District regulations.

In addition, PVC received the PVARC’s recommendation of approval to reduce the required 20-foot buffer from any overlay district roadway right-of-way to 8 feet, as well as reduce the minimum required separation between two buildings from 20 feet to 15.77 feet.

The PVARC lastly provided design approval of PVC’s architecture plans for the proposed Ocean House buildings, which would utilize the same materials that make up the current structures in the resort’s complex.

PVC’s non-zoning variance, and a companion zoning variance that was not reviewed by the PVARC, will be presented to the Ponte Vedra Zoning & Adjustment Board Sept. 11 for final approval.