Historic City News reporters were on hand when a staff decision to allow a successor to develop vacant lots within the Plantation at Ponte Vedra, by building model homes on ten vacant lots, has been shot down by the four county commissioners who were able to vote.
St Johns County Commissioner John H. “Jay” Morris, Jr., District 4, abstained from the vote that came nearly three hours after this morning’s regular meeting began; declaring a “conflict of interest” in that he is a property owner — just a few doors down from the proposed model center inside the upscale planned unit development.
According to testimony before the commission today, County Administrator Michael D. Wanchick ruled that the successor developer to The Plantation, which is already substantially “built out”, had the same rights as the original developer.
After the County issued the decision, relying on language in the PUD that specifically stated, “model homes would be depicted on the Final Development Plan map”, and, therefore, would allow model homes to be built on the ten lots, the neighbors say they united against the decision.
Through their attorney, Doug Burnett, and reiterated in public comments by residents, some of whom are also attorneys, to build a model home center, complete with outdoor signs, public access to the otherwise gated community, and, if desired, a showroom of sample finishes, floorings, and other construction materials, was unconscionable.
The Wanchick ruling was based in part on a “shaded map” that was entered as evidence that the ten lots in question had always been intended for use as model homes.
The shaded map’s pedigree is somewhat “shady”. Burnett produced a slide of the recorded site map — side-by-side with the “shaded map”. There is no recording stamp, or reference to a book and page number within the St Johns County official records, that would substantiate the developer’s claim.
The recorded map is only viewable electronically, and does not depict the model home locations; however, the map legend did have an un-shaded symbol labeled “Model Home Locations” which indicated to staff the shading had not carried over during the recording process.
Evidence from documents found during the County’s review, at the time, and the original hard copy of the Final Development Plan map the Clerk of Courts used to accomplish the recording further aided in the County’s decision.
The residents contend that an “un-shaded” Final Development Plan map was recorded and that there is no competent and substantial evidence indicating the Board of County Commissioners ever approved a “shaded” Final Development Plan map that depicted model homes.
Without making any accusation that county staff altered or allowed an eager developer to alter the official site maps, it was clear that some commissioners were suspect of its origin. Even more suspicious is the fact that since the inception of the community, comprised of million-dollar estates, there has never been a “model center” employed to sell the hundreds of homes that have already been built.
Based on questions asked and discussion by commissioners, it was observed that there was a feeling the forty, or so, residents of The Plantation, that were seated in the audience, stood together against what they considered to be an affront to their safety, security, peace and quiet, and overall quality of life.
The board voted 4-0 to override the staff decision, stopping the construction of a model home center.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer