Thursday, February 18, 2021

St. Johns County halts sale of golf club to look at funding renovation. (St. Augustine Record)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021, public participation helped stop 80 acre public land giveaway of our county property -- another victory.  

Thanks to Commissioners Paul Waldron, Jeb Smith and Christian Whitehurst for their votes.

The vote was 3-2,  defeating a motion urged by Chairman Jeremiah Ray Blocker and Henry Dean (both lawyers, who should know better than to support this sordid sellout, a brazen breach of fiduciary duty and public trust put on the consent agenda by sneaky County Administrator HUNTER CONRAD..

I opposed the giveaway.  

I questioned the lack of staff work explaining a complex transaction, and the attempt to avoid public participation by placing the item on the consent agenda.

When I called out staff's contract draft failures -- failure to include strong Fair Housing language in the contract, and failure to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the contract --- acting like a bumptious bumpkin busybody County Commission Chair Jeremiah Blocker barked at me, as if I were somehow off-topic.  

Blocker joined in the retaliation begun by his wetter-behind-the-ears Dull Republican colleague -- uncouth, unkind, uncool, uneducated, uninformed CHRISTIAN (sic) WHITEHURST -- retaliating for my February 4, 2021 request for a civil rights compliance review and investigation of racist St. Johns County.  I've filed a USDOJ complaint before sunrise the next day, here  

And in the immortal words of J. Danforth Quayle, "I wear their scorn as a badge of honor."   Haughty hobbledehoys in our employ -- start listening and stop interrupting.

Thanks to three Commissioners for voting down this crooked deal.

No thanks to the staff for trying to sneak it through without public debate.  Shame on the two lawyers -- County Attorney PATRICK FRANCIS McCORMACK and County Administrator HUNTER SINCLAIR CONRAD (an unindicted co-conspirator in federal bribery case involving Clerk collection agency)

Thanks to Vice Chairman I. Henry Dean for taking this item off the "consent agenda."  Twice at the February 16, 2021 meeting, Commission had to remove items from the consent agenda that should never have been there (the other involves a bike and hiking trail in St. Augustine South).  Placing these items on the consent agenda was a badge of fraud.

USDOJ and FBI: take notice. 

From St. Augustine Record:


St. Johns County halts sale of golf club to look at funding renovation

By Colleen Michele Jones

St. Augustine Record

February 18, 2021

An aerial photograph shows the St. Johns Golf Club and the Cypress Lakes community in Elkton on Wednesday.

St. Johns County commissioners Tuesday put the brakes on a plan to sell a portion of the county-owned golf course in Elkton to a private developer who planned to build homes on the property.

The board directed county staff to instead find alternative ways to finance necessary renovations and report back at a future meeting in April or May.

Commissioners said they were caught off-guard by the potential deal and concerned that the purchase sale agreement was placed on the consent agenda which does not require the type of vetting other motions do.

The public St. Johns Golf Club is located in the Cypress Lakes residential community off of State Road 207, where about 500 homes currently exist.

County golf course has seen better days

The golf course has had its ups and downs over the years, prompting the county to explore its options for getting the facility back on the fairway financially. The course is 30 years old and showing its wear and tear, so county officials have also talked about possibly renovating the property, including needed drainage and irrigation work.

In 2018, at the request of sitting commissioners, county staff sought RFPs from developers interested in buying approximately 80 acres of excess land around the course in exchange for remodeling the 18-hole course (which had been 27 holes until 2011, when it was scaled back as the number of rounds played declined).

That developer would then agree to build a new course on the current site to the county’s specifications.

Of those commissioners, three are still on the board — Henry Dean, Jeb Smith and Paul Waldron — while two (Christian Whitehurst and Jeremiah Blocker) were installed more recently. Waldron said at Tuesday's meeting he had never voted to sell the property.

Neighborhood Realty Inc./McGarvey Residential Communities was chosen as the finalist in the solicitation of RFPs. The land in 2018 was estimated to have an assumed developed value of about $3.1 million.

At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Dean opened discussion of the golf course by requesting that the PSA contemplating the sale of the property to McGarvey Residential Communities be removed from the consent agenda and placed in open discussion by the board, Dean said, so the public could weigh in on it.

County administrator Hunter Conrad said PSAs are regularly placed on consent agendas as a matter of procedure.

Keeping green space

One homeowner, Ken Phillips, who has lived in Cypress Lakes for about 20 years, addressed the board to speak out against the purchase of the golf course to an outside company.

"We do not object to the renovation of the St. Johns Golf Club," Phillips said. "We do object to the sale of it as a public asset."

Phillips went on to say that he had received a letter in 2011 from then-county administrator Michael Wanchick that, he said, made it clear that the county would never sell the property to a private company for redevelopment.

County Attorney Patrick McCormack read a copy of the letter referenced by Phillips but disagreed that it made any legally-binding promises.

Phillips also said he couldn't understand the logic of the county, which continues to grow in population every year, selling off green space used for recreational purposes.

Waldron said his understanding of the last discussions over the property had centered around renovating the golf course which, according to Waldron, is profitable, pulling in about $88,000 in revenue last year.

"We're always looking for more parks and rec [space]," Waldron said. "I don't understand why we would sell 88 acres we could use."

Waldron suggested the county would do better to take excess funds returned by the Tax Collector’s office as a potential source of financing renovation of the facility on its own.

Whitehurst, on the other hand, said he had toured the golf course recently and was not as convinced its "deficiencies" could be fully addressed without a business partner and didn't understand how the developer could have been led to believe a deal "was all but done" without encouragement from county officials.

Conrad estimated a full renovation could cost somewhere between $4 million and $5 million.

Smith said he would not be in favor of moving forward with a PSA that might contradict past promises made to adjacent homeowners.

Blocker asked McCormack if approving the PSA with McGarvey Residential Communities could leave the county open to "legal exposure" based on the 2011 letter to homeowners. McCormack said he did not believe so.

Commissioners, in the end, agreed to not proceed with the sale of the land and look for other ways to fund renovations.

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