Outpost lawsuit will be dropped in plan accepted by county commission

Historic City News readers interested in the proposed development of a 99-acre parcel within the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve learned yesterday that the St Johns County Board of Commissioners, defendants in a civil suit filed by the Ponte Vedra Corporation, a subsidiary of GATE Petroleum Company, unanimously approved a settlement agreement with the property owners.

The property along SR-A1A North has been known as “The Outpost” since the days when it was owned by James Stockton and the Stockton Land Company.  GATE, the current owner, is looking to develop it into a small residential community of 60-70 homes.

In order to move forward with the development, GATE was seeking a comprehensive plan change from “Conservation” to “Residential” by an act of the county administrator. GATE, through its law firm, Rogers Towers and attorney Ellen Avery-Smith, argued in the 2016 civil complaint that The Outpost had been inaccurately listed as “Conservation” because only about 23 acres of the land is wetlands; the remainder is not sensitive wetlands and therefore should be considered developable.  That portion of the lawsuit was dismissed in Circuit Court.

With the settlement, GATE is agreeing to keep the wetlands and a small portion of uplands classified as “Conservation”.  They are now seeking to change the land use through the normal hearing process to “Residential A” for one home per acre; keeping both parties out of court.

GATE can withdraw the application at any time during the approval process.

“If this board approves those applications, then following the expiration of the appeal periods, assuming no appeals are filed, the Ponte Vedra Corporation will withdraw the lawsuit with prejudice,” Avery-Smith told the members of the County Commission. “If the application is denied or withdrawn, then the Ponte Vedra Corporation is retaining the right to move forward with the Planned Unit Development and any boundary determination that goes with it in the place that it sits right now legally.”

Even though the end of the lawsuit is only the beginning of a series of applications that will undergo public scrutiny and hearings, there were early objectors to any move by GATE to develop the land for residential purposes. Nicole Crosby, co-founder of advocacy group Save Guana Now, expressed concern over the new application by the Ponte Vedra Corporation.  She says her supporters feel that the buildable land and wetlands is not commensurate with Planned Unit Development.  The group’s point of view is that development runs contrary to what Conservation designation is all about.