Sierra Club Threatens to Take St. Johns to Court over Nocatee

Article excerpt

Byline: Jackie Rooney, Shorelines correspondent

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- St. Johns County commissioners turned down the Sierra Club's request last week last week to disallow the massive planned Nocatee development, so the club plans to take the issue to Circuit Court.

In March, the Sierra Club filed a complaint asking the commissioners to reverse their decision to issue a development order for Nocatee. But at a commission hearing Friday, the board refused to back off.

The complaint says the commission's Nocatee approval is inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan. The Sierra Club also filed a motion asking commission Chairwoman Mary Kohnke and Commissioner James Bryant to remove themselves from considering the complaint.

The Sierra Club issued a report in September calling Nocatee an example of urban sprawl. The organization said that, contrary to the developer's claims, Nocatee would not be a sustainable, self-contained community. The County Commission voted in February to amend the comprehensive plan and adopt an order to develop Nocatee.

Nocatee would straddle County Road 210 between the Intracoastal Waterway and U.S. 1. About 12,000 of the development's 15,000 acres would be in St. Johns County, with the rest in southeast Duval County. The comprehensive plan's new town amendment allows the development of the planned community, which would eventually have about 15,000 homes and 38,000 residents.

Sierra Club State Legal Chairman Peter Belmont filed the complaint, which maintains the development will have an adverse impact on about 500 acres of wetlands, woodlands and rural residential land. The Sierra Club wants the county to rescind the development order or modify it to make it consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Someone who challenges a county ruling must first give the county a chance to reconsider its decision.

If the county doesn't reconsider, the challenger then has 30 days to take its case to Circuit Court, said Deborah Andrews, Sierra Club attorney. She said after Friday's hearing that the Sierra Club will do so.

In a separate motion, the club is asking Kohnke and Bryant to step aside. Andrews said the commissioners' statements, reported in newspapers, showed Kohnke and Bryant to be prejudiced. …