The Neighbors from HELL

There is a development going up directly behind my house called Lakewood Pointe PUD on S.R. 206 in St. Johns County. In October 2015, commissioners unanimously approved to change the zoning classification from 34 to 78 homes on these 40 acres, even though there were many opposing the change at the meeting and 120 neighbors signed a petition against it, including South Anastasia Communities Association, Matanzas Riverkeeper and Friends of the Matanzas. The Lakewood Pointe PUD homeowners will be so close together that they will practically be able to shake hands from their rooftops! This PUD is not only inconsistent with the density of existing developments along S.R. 206, it also disregards the land use element of the 2025 Comprehensive Plan.

The nightmare started around mid-May when the clearing of the land began. Sand pines were ripped out of the ground, then dropped in piles, shaking the earth. The land was totally clear-cut!

In June, the burning of stumps and other debris began. The thick smoke took our breath away. Even when a fire curtain was used, which is supposed to control the impact of the smoke on the surrounding environment and neighbors, we still suffered from smoke inhalation. We couldn’t tend to our garden or take our dogs to play in our backyard. On June 13, we noticed embers, soot, and fine sand in our back and front yards, driveway, inside and outside of our cars, on our outbuilding, shed, privacy fence and even on the HVAC unit. We immediately called the Florida Forest Service and they sent representative Kevin Micieli from their Bunnell office to witness what we had reported to them.

Unfortunately, according to Micieli, the law allows the developer to burn 12 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays. Not even Memorial Day was considered special to the developer, Bob Hahnemann. All Micieli was able to do that day was stop the burning when the wind blew toward our neighborhood. But the burning saga continued.

Unable to take it anymore, on June 27, we called the Florida Forest Service again and they sent out wildfire mitigation specialist Julie Allen to see what she could do to address our complaints. She told us the developer would be burning only another two weeks — as if this would be any consolation to us. She said it was very important to the forest service to keep homeowners safe; Allen mentioned that today, homes built near forests must be built of fire-resistant material, unlike our home which would go up in flames in a flash, she said, snapping her fingers. Meanwhile, embers were everywhere, even right across the street!

Next came the diesel pump that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, releasing toxic particulates that hung in the humid, oppressively hot June and July air. Our heads ached, we were light-headed, our eyes and throats irritated.

Particulate matter (PM) or particulates are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere. The World Health Organization designates outdoor air pollution and the particulate in it as a Group 1 carcinogen. Particulates are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and bloodstream, potentially causing permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks, and premature deaths.

This diesel pump was approved by St. Johns River Water Management District; according to professional engineer Jessica Strate Beach, it was used to draw down the pond to enable installation of stormwater infrastructure pipes.

This diesel motor pumped so hard behind our houses that one of our neighbors had to take the pictures off her walls. They called the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy came out to investigate. Even he couldn’t believe the disturbance it was causing to the neighborhood. Almost every day during the burning and diesel pumping, we called and emailed St. Johns County commissioners and staff, the Water Management District, Florida Forest Service, State Representative Paul Renner, and Congressman Ron Desantis’ office for help because we were suffocating in our own homes. But no one seemed to care.

Then came the dump trucks of fill dirt. As they emptied the trucks and drove back and forth on the property, black dust covered everything inside and outside our home, even penetrating our no-see-um screened porch! According to Suzanne Konchan, growth management director with St. Johns County, the workers were supposed to be using water trucks to keep the dust down. The trucks were not used until we kept complaining to the county. But even with additional trucks, the dust kept flying our way.

Also, we believe there will be drainage and increased flooding concerns from this development even though the Water Management District ensures that we will not flood because of the berms and drain pipes that will be installed at Lakewood Pointe. We are nevertheless concerned because a drainage swale behind the homes along Sea Place Avenue has never drained properly according to original homeowners. It’s just been a breeding ground for mosquitoes and water moccasins. Water Management claims the local government should have addressed the drainage issue. The county knew about this drainage problem years ago because a homeowner who filled the drainage swale was ordered to remove the fill dirt. This serious issue should have been solved before this development was approved because access to the swale will now be more difficult.

The existing homeowners on Sea Place Avenue adjacent to Lakewood Pointe PUD very seldom get a break from the noise and no one ever considered our property rights or quality of life of homeowners directly affected by this development. In our opinion, a letter from the developer and/or county official should have notified us in advance of what was going to take place on this property. There was no good neighbor communication from the developer and no word from the county on the negative impact this would have on the neighborhood.

No human or non-human animal should have to live through the toxic particulates, filth and fear of a house going up in flames. It has turned our lives upside-down and there’s more to come as the development process continues.

We need laws changed to protect existing homeowners and the environment from this development process or this “living hell” will continue to devastate families and neighborhoods across Florida!

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Parker is a longtime resident of St. Johns County.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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