PZA recommends approval of PGA Tour’s development applications for new headquarters

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The Planning and Zoning Agency (PZA) last week unanimously recommended approval of the PGA Tour’s applications to modify its development plan and consolidate parcels of its existing land in Ponte Vedra Beach with the County Courthouse Annex parcel on Palm Valley Road for a new corporate headquarters.

The PZA’s recommendation of approval at the Aug. 17 meeting represents the completion of the second of three hearings for the PGA Tour’s modification to the Caballos del Mar Development of Regional Impact (DRI), as well as its Major Modification request to the PLAYERS Club Planned Unit Development (PUD). The Ponte Vedra Architectural Review Committee (PVARC) recommended approval of relevant and applicable parts of the Major Modification request Aug. 9. The DRI modification and PUD Major Modification will go before the Board of County Commissioners Sept. 19 for a final vote. 

In the applications, the PGA Tour is asking to consolidate and transfer its vested development rights and uses across its existing land, which were approved in 1975, and extend some of those same rights and uses to the annex parcel, which is soon to be acquired by the tour. The proposed changes within the applications would result in the relocation of the annex’s services to another location, which is still to be determined.

The applications also propose replacing the existing lattice tower on the annex parcel that is used for communications services with a monopole that will be relocated to the north end of the PGA Tour’s property. The new tower will be a 250-foot, galvanized finish monopole that will be upgraded to a higher windstorm rating capable of withstanding a Category 5 windstorm event. It will be located approximately 500 feet west of the Palm Valley Road right of way, directly south of the post office.

By consolidating its development rights, the tour would most notably be allowed to develop multi-family residential units on its golf course parcel where TPC Sawgrass is located. Project representatives on behalf of the tour said the company’s vision is to eventually build condominiums on the “non-golf course pockets” of the golf course parcel. They emphasized that there are no plans to change the course itself. The applications also propose the addition of a land equivalency table that would allow the PGA Tour to convert a portion of its residential entitlements to commercial or office uses.

Within the applications, the PGA Tour is requesting several waivers, many of which were previously approved and need further approval to be extended across the company’s entire property, including the soon-to-be-acquired annex parcel. A few of the others are classified as “deferral waivers,” providing the tour with more time to gather information on items like wetland acres and impacts and type and extent of upland forests.

Among the requests are a few controversial waivers that caused debate amongst the PZA board and hearing attendees. One such waiver would allow the PGA Tour to illuminate its practice facilities two and half hours prior to sunrise.

“We’re wakened every morning at 4 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. with work on the golf course,” said John Kinsella, a Ponte Vedra resident who lives on Seven Mile Drive. “Can you imagine what time it’s going to start if you allow lighting two and a half hours before sunrise?”

Project representatives said the golf practice facilities are located 375 feet from the nearest residential uses. They also said they are looking at lighting that is not as tall as typical ball field lighting.

Another waiver would allow the company to bypass the requirement that five acres of active recreation be provided per 1,000 design population on the golf course property. The company’s representative said that if the PGA Tour does decide to build multi-family units on the golf course parcel, the TPC Sawgrass course and clubhouse, as well as amenities within the PLAYERS Club PUD would provide the necessary recreation space.

Among the waivers included another controversial request regarding signage allowances. Palm Valley Overlay District regulations currently limit parcels of 5 acres or more in size to one ground sign that has a maximum Advertising Display Area (ADA) of 60 square feet. Previously, the PGA Tour received approval to build two 35-foot-tall decorative features (e.g. towers) at future entrances along Palm Valley Road. This new waiver would allow the tour to install one wall sign on each of these entry features that has an ADA of 100 square feet. One of these future entrances is expected to be built on the annex parcel.

Several of the Ponte Vedra residents at the meeting said they were not made aware of the PGA Tour’s specific plans until 24 to 48 hours before the hearing. One particular resident called it a “stealth plan.” PGA Tour representatives said they did everything they could to inform the community, including attending a meeting of the master homeowners association board for the Sawgrass PLAYERS Club. The PGA Tour representatives said the company received approval of the applications from that board, which they said consists of representatives of the sub-associations within the community.

Residents and PZA board members also spoke to the lack of clarity regarding several of the elements within the PGA Tour’s applications.

“There’s nothing in here that tells you very much about anything, and that really bothers me a great deal,” said Palm Valley resident Mary Kohnke.

The PZA board, however, ultimately decided to trust the PGA Tour given its track record.

“I take the leap of faith on this one in terms of looking at the past experience of the PGA Tour and what they’ve done and how they’ve acted,” said Board Member Mike Koppenhafer. “However, if this was another applicant, I would not be supporting this thing because the other applicant likely does not have a 42-year track record of being a good neighbor.”

Board Member Brad Nelson echoed Koppenhafer’s sentiments.

“I have the utmost confidence in the PGA Tour to do the right thing here, even though there’s certainly some subjectivity,” said Nelson. “This is a very large, very complex, very unique property. I trust that they don’t really know what’s going to happen. They can’t define it precisely. We have to make decisions based on what’s likely to happen.”

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