Distract & Conquer

What do wealth, power and privilegedo when they find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion? They don’t back down, that’s for sure. No, when push comes to shove, the powerful push back. And they begin by muddying the waters to distract and dilute opposition.

That’s exactly what Gate Petroleum did last Friday, Sept. 6, when the company’s vice president of Marketing, Communications & Government Affairs issued a news release with the subject line, “PONTE VEDRA CORPORATION PROPOSES THREE-YEAR STAY PERIOD ON DEVELOPMENT OF OUTPOST PROPERTY.”

Folio Weekly readers will recall Lindsey Nolen’s Aug. 28 story, Guana Land Grab, outlining the efforts of PVC—a Gate subsidiary—to develop its Outpost property. As a necessary first step, the company requested that St. Johns County rezone the 100-acre parcel from conservation to residential. Concerned neighbors weren’t having it, however. More than 400 turned out before the Planning & Zoning Agency, and the matter was deferred to Sept. 17. In the meantime, public pressure has not relented. Developing the Outpost might be the most universally unpopular idea in the history of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Hence the Sept. 6 press release. The four-paragraph statement was meant to telegraph that PVC was willing to make concessions to conservation advocates, namely a three-year stay of development, “allowing time for public entities or private preservation groups to secure funding and purchase the property.”

Certain local media outlets regurgitated the press release, headline and all, as if this was something other than a tactical diversion. But PVC is simply angling to calm public discontent and keep potential demonstrators home during the next—and possibly definitive—St. Johns County Commission meeting on Sept. 17.

The punchline was in the final sentence of Gate’s press release: “The three-year stay would commence following the approval of the terms of the amended settlement agreement and the Commission’s vote to adopt the pending Comprehensive Plan Amendment application (COMPAMD 2019-03) and Planned Unit Development (‘PUD’) rezoning application (PUD 2016-18) for the property.”

That’s right, PVC is not backing down from its request to rezone the Outpost from conservation to residential. If granted, the redesignation will inflate the market value of the land before negotiations even begin. And, if neither county nor state are able to afford PVC’s yet-to-be-determined price, development will continue as planned after the stay expires.

If PVC wants to sell the Outpost, great. But it should sell the land as currently designated, i.e., conservation. This development stay is but a cynical maneuver designed to distract and defuse public opposition. Watchdog organization Save Guana Now is rallying area residents to appear at the Sept. 17 meeting. The Commission must reject PVC’s request then and there. It’s the only way to guarantee what PVC claims that it, too, wants: the conservation of the Outpost.