Recent decisions approved by the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners have come into question by the Ponte Vedra Zoning and Adjustment Board, who had voted to recommend denial on both occasions.
“The PZVAB is making a recommendation to us, and this not a final decision,” Commission Chairman Jeremiah Ray Blocker said. “We have a board that makes recommendations, just like we make decisions and those can be overturned by a court of law.”
According to PVZAB board member Jane Rollinson, she was prompted to join the board after the approval of a future Gate gas station and car wash along A1A despite roughly eight variances being granted that did not meet the regulations in place.
However, it was the most recent approval of a proposed Sleiman Enterprises commercial project along A1A near the county line, known as The Approach at Ponte Vedra Beach, that has Rollinson and others in the community worried about the future direction of Ponte Vedra.
“The role of the PVZAB is to advise the BOCC on the rezoning of land to grant or deny zoning variances,” Rollinson said.
The Ponte Vedra zoning district regulations were first established in 1965 and the overlay district was out in place in 1997 as a guideline for regulations along the town’s coastal corridor.
“I understand the economic requirements of running a big organization, but I don’t understand why we have to jeopardize the privacy and safety of our citizens and the vision of Ponte Vedra Beach as a coastal community by allowing these developments that are significantly in violation of our zoning regulations,” Rollinson said.
Part of what has created Rollinson’s viewpoint is not only the approval of the projects despite the zoning board’s recommendation, but the number of regulation violations that are waived as part of the approvals.
“They are pretty much ignoring our decisions,” Rollinson said. “These are not minor variances.”
Some of the seven variances approved by the Commission include construction of a building three stories tall, where the regulation is a max of two stories; 76,000 feet of gross floor area, where the regulation is a max of 43,000 feet; the length of the building, which was allowed for 270 feet compared to the regulation of 120 feet; and the size of the signage allowed, which will be 80 square feet as opposed to the regulation of a 32-square-foot max.
“This project is too large for the parcel,” PVZAB member Megan McKinley said during the Oct. 19 Commission meeting. “That is demonstrated by the number of waivers that the developers have asked for.”
Cornelius Carroll is a commercial property developer with Essex Property Management and was involved in the creation process of the Shoppes at Ponte Vedra.
According to Carroll, the most “egregious” of the waivers was for the allowance of signage size.
“A lot of thought went into the overlay district regulations, and they are there for a reason,” Carroll said. “Those are the regulations, and everyone has to abide by them. You know that going in.”
Another example of a commercial project the Commission voted in favor of despite the request for denial by PVZAB was the construction of a storage unit facility along A1A.
Carroll is wary of what Ponte Vedra will look like years from now if the Commission continues to ignore the regulations in place.
“If they budge on the variances, A1A will look like Beach Boulevard,” Carroll said. “They (developers) are going to use this as precedent moving forward.”
Sleiman Enterprises initially asked for nine variances, which the Commission did not approve with a 2-2 vote and what would stand as a technical denial if no other vote was taken, according to county attorney Patrick McCormack.
In the initial vote, Blocker and Commissioner Christian Whitehurst voted against project while Henry Dean and Jeb Smith voted in favor of it.
However, Blocker said he was willing to revote if Sleiman Enterprises was willing to adjust some of the waiver requests.
“Something’s going to go there and it’s important for the residents to understand that,” Blocker said. “It’s not going to stay vacant, so regardless of what goes there, we’re going to have traffic coming on the road and going back and forth.”
Sleiman wound up cutting the waiver requests down from nine to seven, and the Commission voted once again and approved the project with all four commissioners in attendance voting in favor of it. Commissioner Paul Waldron was unable to attend the meeting.