A controversial plan to redevelop two resorts over the next 30 years — the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and the Lodge and Club — is one step closer to a final decision later this year.
The St. Johns County Planning and Zoning Agency approved the plan Thursday. The agency is an advisory group that makes recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners about property that falls under the purview of the county’s land development code.
Most of the five-hour meeting focused on rezoning 91 acres at the two resorts into a planned unit development that would allow the owners, Gate Petroleum, to make improvements to the resorts.
Neighbors in the community, as well as others speaking on their behalf, raised concerns before the vote. The issues included potential drops in property values, traffic congestion and more, but the one topic that kept popping up was one about the proposed 55-foot-tall parking garage at the Lodge and Club that would be built on the Southwest corner of the Carlyle condominium building on Ponte Vedra Boulevard and Corona Road.
James Whitehouse, a lawyer representing the condo owners at the Carlyle, argued that language in the proposed plan is vague and allows for free rein.
“They show you this picture and they sort of want you to assume that this is where it’s gonna be, but there’s nothing on the [Master Development Plan] map that requires them to be there,” Whitehouse said.
A representative of the resorts, Ellen Avery-Smith, fired back, saying this plan is similar to other plans she has worked on.
She said the proposal has gone through several rounds of revisions after getting input from officials and neighbors in the community.
“The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club team started meeting with residents in the Ponte Vedra community about a year ago about this project,” Avery-Smith said.
Concessions made include lowering the height of the redevelopment plans for the Palmer Building, which is north of the Carlyle property, and changing plans for the Lodge and Club building, which is east of the property. The Palmer Building changes lower the building height from 55 feet to 35 feet, and the redevelopment of the Lodge and Club building will be no taller than the existing building.
Despite changes made to the plan, not all residents believe the changes go far enough.
Condo owner Bill Harris spoke at the meeting and said he believes the plan is not ready for “prime time.”
“When I see a proposal absorbing the kind of hours and attention that this has, then it tells me there is something wrong,” Harris said.
Even after hearing concerns from residents and the presenters associated with Gate, the planning and zoning agency voted in favor of the proposal by a vote of 4-0.
The resort’s owner says the redevelopment plans are needed in order to make the properties competitive with other luxury destinations and to make the buildings more resilient toward sea level rise.
This proposal now heads to the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners, which will make the final decision. That meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 7.