Thursday, March 31, 2016

St. Augustine Beach Tree-killing Continues: Come Speak Out April 4, 2016 at 7 PM

St. Augustine Beach City Commission meets at 7 PM on Monday, April 4, 2016. Come question this tree-killing orgy, made possible by a prior Commission and hick hack lawyer Mac McLEOD (who represents JEREMY BANKS and SCOTT O'CONNELL in their lawsuits against FDLE Special Agent Rusty Ray Rodgers, retaliation for is doing his job "too well" in investigating the September 2, 2010 shooting of Michelle O'Connell in BANKS' home).

St. Augustine Beach development surprises some residents

Posted: March 31, 2016 - 9:45am

The rumble of land-clearing equipment operating on a piece of wooded property in St. Augustine Beach recently caught the attention of a few residents who weren’t aware the land was slated for development.

Much of the confusion likely stems from the development having been approved nearly 10 years ago by the city’s Planning and Zoning Board.

Susan Johnson told The Record on Wednesday she moved to St. Augustine Beach about seven or eight years ago and has lived in the St. Augustine area for roughly 30 years.

That the roughly 23-acre property on the southeast corner of 11th Street and Mickler Boulevard was about to become a 72-unit development was not on her radar, she said.

“We’re just kind of confused as to what’s going on,” Johnson said.

All she could find was a 10-year-old news story that said Beach commissioners had voted to deny development of a subdivision called Ocean Ridge, she said in an email earlier this week.

She said Wednesday the story left her wondering, “Why is the land being cleared when this was not approved?”

Sandra Krempasky, who moved to St. Augustine Beach about two years ago, said Wednesday she also had no idea the property was going to be developed. She hadn’t heard it mentioned at any recent meetings, she said.

“It’s certainly a surprise when a large development just pops up without mention,” Krempasky said.

Developer Jay McGarvey, of McGarvey Residential Communities in Ponte Vedra Beach, said Wednesday the proposal for Ocean Ridge that was denied in January 2006 was his first shot at getting the property developed.

It was originally a planned unit development that included flexible setbacks for “topography” and “to save trees,” he said.

“The community went berserk because somebody was going to develop that land,” McGarvey said during a phone interview.

When the PUD ended up being denied — first by the PZB and then on appeal by the Beach City Commission — after pushback from residents, he submitted a “straight zoning” land development plan to the PZB.

“It’s just right out of their zoning book,” McGarvey said.

He said the original pushback was unfortunate because he thinks the accommodations made to the city under a PUD are typically better for the community and the developer.

“A PUD is much better zoning than straight zoning,” McGarvey said.

Mayor Rich O’Brien echoed the same sentiments Wednesday.

“In a PUD the city can pretty much request the developer to do anything,” O’Brien said on the phone. “It’s where the city has the most control.”

But with the PUD already denied, the PZB approved the development plan in May 2006, finding it met with the city’s land development regulations.

In January 2008, Runk Properties, the owner of the land, asked the commission for an extension on the final development order. According to minutes from that meeting, Runk attorney Mac McLeod told commissioners a 10-year extension would allow the developer to wait until the economy improved to the point that the market would support a quality development. Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the expiration date on the plan to February 2018.

Now, as development of the property gets under way, McGarvey said he is aware that some members of the community are still upset. Some of that might have to do with residents using the wooded acres for “BMX trails and dog walking” over the years, he said.

But Johnson said she is most concerned about old trees on the property.

“I want to be sure they are being environmentally aware in the tree removal,” she said.

O’Brien said he toured the site Wednesday.

“It’s a fantastic piece of property,” he said “There are beautiful, beautiful oak trees.”

McGarvey said he is well aware of those trees and is planning to come to the Commission soon and ask for adjustments to be made to the original plan that might help protect some of them.

“Trees are worth a lot, and I agree with the community on that,” he said.

Returning to the flexible setbacks that were part of the PUD — as opposed to the rigid setbacks in the “straight zoning” — would be a step in the right direction, he said.

City staff said the only tree removal currently being done at the site is for roads and a retention pond.

Andy Bailey, of Precision Land Grading, was working at the site Wednesday and said the same thing. No lots are being cleared, he said.

But Bailey did say he has caught some flak from “youth” in their “late teens to early 20s” who have been shouting obscenities at him and the others working there. And on Tuesday night someone broke a window in a piece of excavation equipment, he said.

St. Augustine Beach Police Cmdr. Jim Parker said Tuesday that police are looking into the incident and are going to be keeping a closer eye on the property in light of recent events.

“We’re going to start making regular patrols through there” and “enforcing trespassing,” Parker said.

“We hate for it to have to come to that, but that’s the way it’s going to have to be,” he added. “That’s a designated construction site. It’s a third-degree felony to be in there.”

McGarvey said he is disappointed by the recent vandalism but thinks the development, when complete, will be a positive addition to the community.

“It will look a lot like Anastasia Dunes,” he said.

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