6 holes for
A three hour and 45 minute discussion on a plan to turn 40 acres of a failing golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach into senior housing and commercial space yielded the unanimous approval of St. Johns County commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.
The decision to make way for 280 age-restricted units and up to 15,000 square feet of commercial uses, through the board's approvals of a modification to the Caballos del Mar Development of Regional Impact and a major modification to the Players Club at Sawgrass Planned Unit Development contained therein, put an end to an application process that began more than two years ago.
The back-and-forth among stakeholders started shortly after the sale of the Oak Bridge Club, formerly the Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club, to current owner Alta Mar Holdings.
From the get-go, Alta Mar's David Miller has said changes would be coming to the 138-acre property one way or another. He reiterated his case Tuesday that the choice essentially came down to having a failed golf course sit fallow and overgrown or allowing a relatively "low-impact" development on part of that land in order to reinvest in a course shortened to 12 holes.
Miller told commissioners he made concession after concession, such as increased buffering, over the previous 27 months and that he never heard anyone come up with a better solution for use of the property.
To address traffic and density issues that remained, he said he would be willing to reduce the number of age-restricted units from 330 to 280. The board ultimately took him up on the offer.
Residents on Oak View Circle in Hidden Oaks, abutting the parcel of land that will transition from its current use as a golf course into the age-restricted housing, expressed concerns about the potential negative impact to their property values. One neighborhood resident said it made sense that Sawgrass Players Club residents were largely in favor of the project because they stood to have their golf course saved while Hidden Oaks got stuck with the eyesore of a 5 to 6 story structure going up behind their backyards.
"You can't just take the pros and not the cons," he said.
The project's representatives and supporters said letting the golf course fail would have greater consequences for a larger number of homes and that Hidden Oaks residents would be negatively affected all the same. They said the age-restricted housing would have less impact on the surrounding area than any other option, considering there would be zero generation of student population and less of an impact on traffic at peak hours.
Commissioner Jay Morris said taking 50 units off the table would make a difference in density while still allowing for a significant reinvestment in what would remain of the golf course.
"That was a huge commitment to do that," he said before making motions to approve the modifications.
Boat ramp requests
At the head of Tuesday's meeting, local charter boat captains Kevin Faver and Scott Shank expressed concerns about the state of the Vilano Boat Ramp, which is the county's most active ramp.
Faver called the ramp an "absolute eye sore" and said overall conditions have made for a potentially dangerous situation. He also said dock space is limited due to damage from recent storms and that the resulting bottlenecks are causing people to hit their boats together.
Shank said some policing and signage is needed to encourage users to pull their trucks and trailers all the way forward to make the most of what little parking there is. He also said workers on the nearby dredging project have been parking their trucks at the ramp, in as many as 20 spots that should be reserved for people with boats.
Commissioner Paul Waldron in his closing comments said it seemed most of the captains' requests would be "inexpensive" to address. He said he's been seeing struggles at the ramp and that he's fielded complaints about lack of parking and long lines on the weekends.
County Administrator Michael Wanchick said things like signage are low in cost and certainly doable and that the county would work within its budget to address some of the concerns.