In today’s morning session of the St Johns County Commission meeting, Historic City News observed a stream of Ponte Vedra Beach residents take the podium to debate a request regarding a Special Use Permit for Palm Valley Gardens LLC; a Palm Valley wedding reception business.
At the outset, Commissioner Ken Bryan told the board that he would not vote because a family member held an event there — but that he would interject his own comments. One of the complainants in the matter, speaking before the board, said that he had spoken to Bryan outside the meeting and that it “was contentious” — Bryan responded that he just asks a lot of questions and that the complainant was “emotional”.
Chairman Mark Miner said that his wife, a wedding photographer, might have an event there, but that his vote would not affect them financially, so he refused to recuse himself.
At issue today was a one-year special use permit, originally issued by the county in 2010 to Ren Weise, owner of the subject business. Previously the property at 4975 Palm Valley Road was a plant nursery.
Despite noise and drainage complaints and other discrepancies with the previously approved Final Order, on January 19, 2012 the Planning and Zoning Agency approved a special use permit extension for Palm Valley Gardens — subject to certain conditions.
Even though Weise was granted his special use permit, two days later, his attorneys, St Johns Law Group, advanced objections on Weise’ behalf that the conditions were too restrictive.
The conditions included limitations on the duration of the permit to only one year, non-transferability of the permit, a requirement to place fencing on the north property line, and a requirement to erect a tent enclosure to abate noise from amplified music.
There was not a lot of support expressed by the commissioners during their comments after public testimony. In the final moments just after 2:00 p.m., when the board finally broke for lunch, it appeared that there might be some common ground being reached between those supporting and those objecting to the commercial use of the open rural property.
At that moment, Chairman Miner called for a brief recess — suggesting, “We lock the lawyers in a room for five minutes” and see if they resolve their differences. Commissioner Stevenson said it would be best not to rush the decision, Miner responded, “OK, we break for lunch, give them time to talk, and we’ll vote when we return.” Commissioner Sanchez pointed out that Commission Bryan would not be voting and Commissioner Stevenson had an after-lunch commitment elsewhere, so it would be a short vote. Miner responded, “I’m not responsible for other commissioner’s schedules” and went on to say that he had something else to do this afternoon, as well.
County Attorney Pat McCormack stepped in and advised that another meeting be held in two weeks — not five minutes, so that the parties could attempt a resolutions. Sanchez pointed to the fact that we know they are violating the zoning ordinances by allowing activity inside the building on the property — the county building official spoke to the incompatibility of the residential structure for a public or commercial use.
Sanchez asked McCormack, “Does the county assume any liability if we allow this to continue for two more weeks?” The attorney’s opinion was no. The county is not giving him permission to violate codes or laws — he does so at his own risk. Commissioner Stevenson re-emphasized the fact that the Building Department could pull the permit at any time, if they can document a violation of any of the provisions.
On a unanimous vote, the matter was postponed for two more weeks.