2019 update: Gate calls off hearing! Details here.
"Thank you for all your efforts to stop the incompatible development of 66 homes smack dab in the middle of our crown jewel of nature in N E Florida."
-St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean
One hundred acres of land in northeast Florida known as the "Outpost" were designated Conservation in 1990. But in 2014, the property owner, Ponte Vedra Corp. and its parent company Gate Petroleum claimed the Conservation designation of the land to be "erroneous" and they planned to build 77 homes there (which they later revised to 66). But first, they had to convince St. Johns County to change the Comprehensive Plan so that 74 upland acres could be zoned residential.
This website documents the events that led to a well organized group of citizens stopping that from happening. (We remain committed to our mission to preserve and protect environmentally sensitive land and Outstanding Florida Waters in or around the GTM-NERR.) The fight began with a call to action: "We need as many people as possible to write emails and attend public hearings to stop this from happening. There is no shortage of residential property in the area for homes; there's no need to destroy conservation land that is 97% surrounded by the only National Estuarine Research Reserve on Florida's east coast. Contrary to the misperception that Gate donated 12,000 acres of land for preservation to the state of Florida, they sold that land to the state in 1984. (The state attempted to acquire the Outpost property at that time, but was refused.) Gate's development plans today would harm the very preserve that earned the company $49 million in taxpayer dollars 34 years ago.
The proposed development, "Vista Tranquila," would punch a hole in Guana preserve causing the destruction of 74 upland acres of wildlife habitat. Death and displacement of thousands of animals would impact the surrounding preserve. Polluted run-off would flow into Guana River - an Outstanding Florida Water deemed worthy of special protection. Sixty-six houses would create an eyesore in the northern end of Guana preserve. Critically endangered wetland habitat within the Outpost would be imperiled. Fourteen animal species that have the potential to exist at the Outpost are Threatened or Endangered.
The Outpost borders pristine Guana Lake for nearly a mile. An increase in contaminants to that waterway would impact the GTM-NERR (Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve). The Department of Environmental Protection has expressed concern about the potential for development of the Outpost to contaminate Guana Lake. See our endorsements below from five environmental groups.
Thank you for your thousands of emails and for attending the county hearing Aug. 15. We cannot prevail without public support. Your attendance and your emails made the difference in our fight to stop development at the Outpost. For now. The Ponte Vedra Corporation cancelled the Sept. 17 hearing before county commissioners. Details here. But they still plan to pursue rezoning. Please follow this page for next steps. Join our email list here. Follow our Facebook page here. We must remain vigilant."
We're a group of citizens and organizations
advocating for the preservation of 100 acres of land that have been designated "conservation" for decades. But now,
attorneys representing the Ponte Vedra Corporation are pushing for a land use change so that 3/4 of the Outpost can be zoned "residential."
Photo credits Craig O'Neal
Outpost land plus 66 homes.* One mile borders Florida Outstanding Waters, "deemed worthy of special protection because of [their] natural attributes."
The yellow triangle of land below, bordering the 8-mile Guana River, is "the missing piece" of the preserve. Surrounded almost entirely by Guana Wildlife Management Area, it's been designated "conservation" since 1990. Our goal is to preserve this important wildlife habitat and to protect the delicate ecosystem it is
a part of from the impact of
the currently proposed 66
homes. The Florida Fish
has had the Outpost
property on its
acquisition list for 14 years.
Please write emails now,
and attend the public
hearings Sept. 17.
"Over 300 species of birds have been sighted in Guana preserve - a number of them imperiled. The Outpost is a critical habitat for migratory birds.
Removing the conservation designation from the Outpost and allowing residential development will destroy valuable ecological habitat, fragment habitat, alter hydrology, and introduce anthropogenic stressors including nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, and invasive plants. Together, these impacts will eliminate the majority of ecological value on the property, and will have significant impacts on adjacent conservation lands."
Thank you for our many endorsements from environmental groups and community organizations:
"We would like to see the 'Conservation' designation maintained so as to protect the pristine quality of Guana and its wildlife, which would be adversely affected by the pollution and run off from...homes. Ideally, the land could be purchased by the State of Florida under the Florida Forever program."
"If the Ponte Vedra Corporation makes the Outpost available for purchase, we will take immediate steps to try to conserve this property. The land meets every ecological criterion that would warrant its conservation."
1000 Friends of Florida endorsement:
“Some areas are suitable for development and some need to be preserved forever. The Outpost is without question the latter. The Outpost is an excellent example of why we need our lawmakers in Tallahassee to increase funding for Florida Forever now.”
Florida Wildlife Federation endorsement:
Dear County Officials,
Please note the strong opposition of the Florida Wildlife Federation to the reclassification of the tract known as the Outpost from conservation to residential. This ecologically significant parcel is bordered by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NER) and serves as a filter as to the water quality of Guana Lake. Places like the GTM NER, an ecosystem that has not been overly degraded by development and polluted runoff, are becoming rare in Northeast Florida. I ask that you please save this treasure for the people of St. Johns County and for our environment health.
Preston T.Robertson, President and CEO, FWF
Defenders of Wildlife NE Florida endorsement:
"It makes sense for many economic and ecological reasons to conserve this 99 acre tract that is contiguous to the 12,000 acre Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve and part of the 73,000 acre Guana, Matanzas,Tolomato National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of only 29 such reserves in the country. Evidence exists that the Outpost property likely contributes important habitat for over a dozen imperiled wildlife species to include the gopher tortoise and many aquatic wading birds."
-Mike Adams, Senior Florida Representative, Field Conservation
St. Johns County Audubon endorsement:
"Development of the Outpost would adversely affect one of the most important bird habitats in northeast Florida. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's eBird data base, over 245 native and migrating bird species have been documented within two miles of the Outpost in the GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve. If we are truly serious about protecting wildlife habitat and promoting nature recreation in St. Johns County, this area of the GTM NERR must be protected from development at the Outpost."
-Amy Koch, President
Matanzas Riverkeeper endorsement:
"The fate of the Outpost will have impacts that extend far beyond its property boundaries. This decision will demonstrate whether our County is willing to adhere to our Comprehensive Plan to protect conservation land for the good of the public. I sincerely hope that it is."
-Jen Lomberk, Esq., Executive Director and Matanzas Riverkeeper
The Ponte Vedra Coalition endorsement:
"The Coalition Members would appreciate your [BOCC} consideration of maintaining the Outpost Property as Conservation and voting Against any efforts to rezone and develop the property as Residential."
Palm Valley Community Association endorsement
"The Board of Directors and Leadership Team have voted unanimously to oppose the request by the applicant of the Outpost property to remove the Comp Plan designation of “Conservation."
St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable endorsement
Representing 50,000 people:
The Mission of the St Johns County Civic Association Roundtable is to preserve and, whenever possible, improve the quality of life in St Johns County.
The St. Johns County Civic Roundtable Association met on Monday, September 9, 2019 and passed the following resolution.
Denial of COMPAMD 2019-03 Vista Tranquila
The St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable urges the SJC Board of County Commissioners to deny the transmittal of COMPAMD 2019-03 Vista Tranquila.
We ask you to deny the land use change due to the negative impact of the proposed development to the Guana River. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the "Guana River, including the waters north of the dam at Guana River Road, is within a designated State Aquatic Preserve with an Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW) water quality classification".
This ecologically significant parcel bordered by the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NER) serves as a filter to the water quality of Guana Lake. This area is "an ecosystem that has not been overly degraded by development and polluted runoff which is becoming rare in Northeast Florida" as stated by the Florida Wildlife Federation.
We ask that the land remain in conservation for the environmental health of the citizens of St Johns County.
On behalf of the Roundtable, we thank you for your consideration and hope we have your support
Very truly yours,
Anthony J Bosco
St Johns County Civic Association Roundtable
Memo to County from Florida Department of Environmental Protection:
"Guana River north of the dam is economically important to the tourism of St. Johns County" ..."Guana Lake is prone to the deleterious effects of excess stormwater pollutants." .... "the recommendation from the Research Reserve and from the Guana River Marsh Aquatic Reserve Management Staff is that protecting and improving the water quality of Guana Lake be seriously considered in deliberating this decision." [Referring to county's decision to allow or disallow development of Outpost property.] For complete memo, click PDF.
In Herb Peyton's own words:
"...it is some of the most beautiful real estate in northeast Florida, completely natural. Guana is exactly like it was two hundred years ago, heavily wooded with tremendous oaks, hickories, magnolias, and pines."
(Describing the 8,000-acre, heavily-wooded tract of Guana. Newboy, 1997.)
Nature gives us an eco-gift of $588,810 per year.
When you consider how the Outpost property - left in its natural state - cleans our air, improves our water quality and quantity, and prevents flooding, $588,810 is what the land returns to us in eco-system services value every single year. (This is based on a widely-accepted model used by the state of New York when rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.) The Outpost's depression marsh recharges the acquifer; any recharge area east of I-95 is rare. We must conserve this land in order to preserve our water supply. Jim McCarthy, Executive Director of North Florida Land Trust told the Times Union "The wetlands and forests of The Outpost are important for flood retention and water filtration. The wetlands serve as a buffer when the water level rises and help prevent flooding in areas farther upland. Wetlands in and around The Outpost are part of the reserve’s natural water filtration system, taking out pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus. This filtration sustains the reserve’s numerous ecosystems."
"...Save Guana Now [is] a citizen-based group fighting the development. They have been a force." - St. Augustine Record
Save Guana Now "has morphed into a serious advocacy group for our area." - The Times Union
The Associated Press covered the launch of Save Guana Now,
which was picked up by news outlets around the country. (Story HERE.)
"Put the five words 'Conservation Land' and 'Planned Unit Development' into the same sentence and it might light up the bulb of lunacy." -- Jim Sutton, Opinion Editor, St. Augustine Record (Editorial HERE.)
December 2017, The St. Augustine Record gave a
thumbs up in favor of protecting the the Outpost.
See all our press here, here and here.
See our latest updates here.
"Won't it be nice for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to stand where we are today and look at this magnificent statement of what Florida is."
Photo credit Craig O'Neal
Note: Guana River is also known as Guana Lake and Ponte Vedra Lake.
Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve is also known as Guana.
*Illustration of homes overlaying the Outpost is a rough approximation of how development would appear and is not the actual proposed plan.
Save Guana Now is exempt from federal income tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501(c) (3). Donors can deduct contributions they make to Save Guana Now under IRC Section 170. This includes donations that were made as early as July 28, 2016.
-Governor Bob Graham, 1984, at a ceremony for the state's purchase of Guana property.
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"Craig O'Neal's photographs capture the true wild spirit of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research
Reserve. Through Craig's work, the observer is connected to the Reserve and is beckoned to experience and preserve
this special place." - Michael Shirley, Ph.D., Director, GTMNERR
Thank you to
Craig O'Neal for contributing his photos
of Guana Reserve
to this website.
Read the full story here.