Zoning proposals draw opposition during public meeting


More than 100 people attended a public meeting Wednesday, Nov. 3, at the Ponte Vedra Branch Library to hear about zoning change proposals made by local resident Steve Diebenow.

It was clear from the start that support for the proposals, at least among those in attendance, was virtually nonexistent. After describing his ideas and explaining his rationale for the changes, Diebenow polled the room. He went through each proposal, asking attendees to raise their hands if they supported it.

Very few hands went up. In fact, at times during the gathering, attendees became vocal in their opposition.

Diebenow, an attorney who focuses on real estate, land use and zoning issues in Duval County, explained the origin of his proposals. He said he’d read the code for the Ponte Vedra Zoning District and found restrictions that didn’t make sense to him.

Later, he said he was working for a family, declining to identify his clients. This led more than one person in attendance to voice suspicion that he was working for the Peyton family, who occupy key positions within the Gate Petroleum company.

Some of those in attendance had opposed the Gate convenience store, gas station and car wash currently under construction on State Road A1A. The last obstacle to that project was removed Dec. 17 when the Circuit Court of the 7th Judicial Circuit denied a petition that would have nullified a key decision by the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners that gave the project a clear path to implementation.

Diebenow’s having served as counsel to former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton and having served on his staff only fed suspicions about his current client.

But Diebenow refuted those claims.

“It’s a local family, and the family is not a member of the Gate family, and they’re not a developer,” he said.

Diebenow has proposed these amendments for residential properties to the Ponte Vedra Zoning District regulations:

  • Allow three-story homes in lieu of the current two-story limitation. (This proposal was also made for commercial properties.)
  • Allow for porches, balconies and bay windows to extend three feet from the building.
  • Allow for eight-foot gates, columns and lights where fences are restricted to four feet.
  • Allow for six-foot fences between homes.

He proposed these additional amendments for commercial properties:

  • Allow for flat roofs subject to review by the Ponte Vedra Architectural Review Committee.
  • Remove regulations relating to reflective roof materials.

The amendments would not affect Sawgrass, Marsh Landing or any areas outside the overlay district.

Members of the audience objected especially to the three-story idea, which Diebenow said would not increase density.

“A three-story house vs. a two-story house is a house,” he said. “It’s not any more dense or any less dense the way that the comprehensive plan treats it.”

He said his amendment would not impact the current 35-foot height limitation on construction.

Attendees were not convinced.

Since the three-story proposal also applied to commercial properties, some saw a potential for greater activity in a given area and an increase in traffic on S.R. A1A.

“We do not need more traffic,” said one man. “We do not need more people. We do not need more infrastructure.”

“They’re using ‘density’ in a different way than we are,” said Nicole Crosby, St. Johns Soil and Water Conservation District chair. “Don’t be fooled by the fact that they’re using the word ‘density’ in a different way than the average lay person uses it. There will be more people in the third story. How could there not be?”

Garry Phillips, president of the Palm Valley Community Association, said his board voted unanimously to oppose anything like what was being proposed.

“I can assure you,” he said, “10 years from now, if this happens, you will not recognize Ponte Vedra.”

Cornelius Carroll drew applause from the attendees after he said, “I can tell you right now, if you’re a commissioner that approves this, I’ll donate whatever I can legally to oppose your reelection.”

Carroll, whose family owns The Shoppes at Ponte Vedra, had opposed the Gate station on S.R. A1A.

Concerning flat roofs, which are currently allowed for residential construction but not for commercial projects, Diebenow said developers simply get around the regulation by getting waivers. That would lead to inconsistencies.

“If we’re going to sometimes allow them and sometimes not, having a strict prohibition against flat commercial roofs doesn’t make any sense,” Diebenow said.

His proposal would allow the flat roofs subject to approval by the architectural review board.


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