Dispute over conservation boundary continues in Outpost case

The case against St. Johns County filed in September 2016 by developers behind the controversial Vista Tranquila project in Ponte Vedra Beach, for lack of a better word, continues.

 

A hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon before Judge Michael Traynor of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court. In April, Traynor signed an order holding the case in abeyance on the condition the Board of County Commissioners would hear Ponte Vedra Corporation’s application for a planned unit development in a timely manner, under the county’s current Comprehensive Plan.

In November, the developers filed a motion to lift the abatement, arguing the county hasn’t held up its end of the bargain, but has instead deployed a series of stall tactics and provided evasive responses to their inquiries.

The county has said numerous times that Ponte Vedra Corporation will have to seek a Comprehensive Plan amendment if it wants to build on a piece of property it owns called the Outpost.

The land in question is situated at the southern end of Neck Road, bordering the Guana River in the northern reaches of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, or GTMNERR. Developers want to build 66 single-family homes on the 99.3-acre parcel, but there’s been a lot of resistance from neighbors.

Ponte Vedra Corporation claims it’s being denied a point of entry to a boundary determination without which it cannot adequately plan.

“Distinguishing between jurisdictional conservation areas and developable portions of a designated parcel fairly informs a landowner’s site planning and preparation for public hearings on site plan related applications,” the motion says. “To do otherwise, unfairly forces a landowner to guess and plan in a vacuum.”

The county, on Jan. 5, filed a response in opposition saying the developers are using a “premature lawsuit” to try and force the county to change its designation of the property from conservation to residential on the Future Land Use Map “without complying with the procedures required for notice and public hearings to amend the Plan.”

The response says the developers are not entitled to a “discrete” determination on the boundaries before consideration by the commission on the application. Further, the county says the “point of entry” the developers are seeking is at the public, quasi-judicial hearing before the commission on their application, “which the County is processing.”

But the company says the county’s refusal to make a boundary determination based on field surveys is in violation of what it claims is “clearly” required by the existing Comprehensive Plan. Further, the company says the county has refused to process a renewed request on Aug. 31 for a formal administrative interpretation, from County Administrator Michael Wanchick, of the exact development/conservation boundary.

County Attorney Patrick McCormack had provided a response Oct. 4, saying interpretation of the Comprehensive Plan as they had requested “is ultimately a matter for the Board of County Commissioners and is most appropriately done in the context of your client’s rezoning application, rather than in the abstract.”

He said the entirety of the Outpost property that is the subject of the rezoning application is currently depicted as conservation and that the Comprehensive Plan only says the exact boundaries of land use designations on the Future Land Use Map “may” (rather than “shall”) require interpretation in order to determine appropriate use. He said the plan only allows for “minor deviations,” “when necessary,” assuming the specific boundary location is “not clearly delineated” on the Future Land Use Map.

The county, in its Jan. 5 response, says Ponte Vedra Corporation failed in its motion to cite the relevant policy in its entirety.

In a memorandum of law filed Jan. 9 in support of its motion to lift the abatement, the company takes issue with the county’s claim developers have no right to an administrative interpretation prior to a public meeting.

The company says the question should be properly determined after an amended complaint is filed and that, in any event, the county’s response “only confirms the existence of the concrete legal dispute” concerning the company’s procedural rights.

The hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

 

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