Friday, August 05, 2016


Controversial corrupt St. Johns County Sheriff DAVID SHOAR's developer-contributor cronies won a temporary victory on a dangerous development threatening the capacity for emergency evacuations of the already-clogged unnamed barrier island between Ponte Vedra Beach and Vilano Beach. Sick.

St. Johns County PZA recommends Watermarke
Posted: August 4, 2016 - 10:35pm | Updated: August 5, 2016 - 6:16am

Developers are hoping to build a hotel and resort project on this 43.87 acres of located about 1.5 miles north of the Francis and Mary Usina Bridge on the west side of State Road A1A/Coastal Highway. The project would include a conference center, bed and breakfast, restaurant, café, bar, gift shop, beach club, office building, boathouse, cabana and beach villas. Their application goes before the county's Planning and Zoning Board Agency on Aug. 4. A hearing before the Board of County Commissioners is scheduled for Sept. 20. By


With hundreds of Vilano Beach residents clapping and cheering in approval, more than a dozen speakers voiced their displeasure and opposition to a proposed change in the county’s Comprehensive Plan to accommodate the development of a beach resort on State Road A1A.

And more than an hour after public comments ended, the St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Board quietly voted 5-1 in favor of the action.

The issue before the PZA was a request from developers to rezone parts of a 43.5-acre parcel of land just north of the Usina Bridge that is currently home to an abandoned RV park. Ownership is seeking the change so it can build a 120-room hotel, 50 beach villa rentals and a 39-slip boat dock. The development is called Watermarke.

Officially, the item in question was a request to amend the Future Land Use Map designation from Conservation and Residential-C to Residential-D for approximately 23.5 acres of land and from Conservation and Residential-C to Conservation for approximately 20 acres of land.

The applicant needs the zoning change from Residential-C to Residential-D in order to construct a hotel on the property.

Residents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting and who sent letters and emails to the county voiced concern over the new project’s compatibility and impact on traffic and safety. They were also worried about the impact of so much commercial development on a narrow strip of Florida A1A.

“Unlike St. Augustine Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach where A1A was able to be relocated and four-laned to accommodate commercial development, Vilano’s A1A does not have that opportunity,” said Robert Olson, who lives on Windjammer Lane, north of the proposed development.

“We feel the Comprehensive Plan supports smart growth because it focuses commercial development on the Vilano Town Center. We don’t feel there’s a change that has occurred here to justify that change (in the Comprehensive Plan).”

Added Alan Fisher, who lives on A1A: “I don’t see how this thing can be taken seriously. There is no commercial in that area. Anyone who lives in the area and tries to get over the bridge at peak time ... I know that when you try to get over that bridge it’s way backed up. And now you tell me evacuation is not going to be an issue?”

Attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, representing Watermarke, argued that the project addresses those concerns. Just Thursday, the plan was scaled back by a total of 30 total rental units. And the request for 80,000 square feet of commercial space was altered to 70,000 square feet.

The property is currently within a Planned Unit Development called Beachcomber that was approved about a decade ago for 45 single-family homes and 34 multi-family units. But it was never built.

Avery-Smith said the Watermarke resort plan has less projected impact than the current PUD would if built out.

“Based on the reduced numbers that we revised this text amendment to today, the p.m. peak hours trips and the daily trips from the private resort are lower than the existing 79 residential units in the Beachcomber PUD,” she said.

With the resort not being open until at least 2018 and not completely built out until 2021, Avery-Smith added that traffic should be improved for Vilano residents due to the reconstruction of the May Street-San Marco Avenue intersection. Work there is planned to begin next year.

But attorney Jane West, retained to oppose the Watermarke project, argued that should not be justification for adding more commercial development throughout Vilano.

“I can assure you that the city of St. Augustine’s significant expenditure of land from 7-Eleven to improve that May Street corridor was not to be taken as a green light for the county to fill it right back up with additional traffic,” West said. “That is not a prudent use.

“The infrastructure here in Vilano is a bit compromised, and everyone in this room knows it.”

Avery-Smith also said the commercial aspect of the property would be ancillary for the use of the guests. And the project would be compatible with neighbors, she said, pointing to the Ocean Sands Beach Inn to the north and the Seaside of Vilano condominiums to the south.

“It does not include a gas station, a shopping mall, any intense commercial uses,” Avery-Smith said. “We hope that you will find that this project is more compatible than the existing Beachcomer residential development.”

Watermarke could still end up as a residential project itself. That was one of the caveats in the owners’ proposal. The agreement would include the ability to transform the villas and hotel into a total of 79 multi-family residential units if the resort plan fails. There was no mention of what would happen with the commercial space if the project is changed to residential.

While many of the PZA members said they understood the concerns about traffic, most concluded that the Watermarke project wouldn’t make things noticeably worse than the current PUD.

Only Dick Williams voiced any opposition.

“I think it’s a terrific concept,” he said. “But it’s not compatible in my mind, in my opinion, to the surrounding area.”

Fellow board member Jeff Martin said he was concerned about traffic but was happy to see a project that would bring tax revenue and jobs to the county.

“I like everything else about it,” he said, citing traffic issues.

Board member Archie Wainright was also a supporter of the proposal, although without the praise for it.

“I live in this community,” he said. “I am affected by that traffic. I wish this project would go away. I am also a private property advocate. I live in America and that’s a founding principle of living in America and I like that.”

The decision by the PZA is not binding but is only a recommendation to the County Commission, which will make the ultimate decision.

COMMENTS Thomas Francis Reynolds 08/05/16 - 06:05 am 31This is dangerous
Another livin up to the Duh moement here in............................ ......................St Johns County Floor ah DUH !

Mikel01 08/05/16 - 08:57 am 40The public's opinion
It appears to be a mute point and a done deal prior to the meeting. The PZA's motives are acutely apparent. What a shame. Just imagine the impact at the intersection of May street and San Marco ave.

Firstcoaster 08/05/16 - 09:23 am 21Two types of palms in SJC
One type grows in your yard, and the other type gets the grease. The fix was in long before the meeting.

I wonder how many times Florida's open-meeting statutes were violated?

Governing - Chicago style - has come to SJC.

ANTHONYSER 08/05/16 - 09:23 am 20Fee
The impact fee should be doubled for that for roads

sponger2 08/05/16 - 09:58 am 41The Profane Zoning Advocates are at it again.
You know, if it but were a century and a half ago, they would have been dragged to the town center, and shot. Where to these Azzh5les GET OFF TELLING US WHAT'S BEST FOR US? The plan is in place. This is not in the plan. Don't change it. It's little wonder that they are exempt from disclosing where they live in the county official records. Well, it's an election year, if this goes through, throw out all incumbent commissioners and start fresh.

mach12.1e 08/05/16 - 10:08 am 40A perfect example.
This is what you would see as a living example of "taxation without representation". The buyer knew the zoning when he purchased it. There is no reasonable expectation that the zoning should be changed to "accommodate" his idea of "improvement" outside the scope of the current zoning. That is profiting at our expense, period.

mandy 08/05/16 - 10:53 am 00zoning
mach and sponger have it clear and precise. Yay Them, Boo pza

Larry7028 08/05/16 - 10:55 am 00Bridge
With the only way to evacuate Vilano Beach being the Usina bridge, shouldn't the state spend huge amounts of our tax dollars on investigating building another bridge between Vilano Beach and Palm Valley?

With all the growth in the county, and having so many new residents never having had the pleasure of a visiting hurricane, there is a need for another evacuation route.

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