Vilano Beach group seeks to halt development due to impact concerns
With the start of commercial development in Vilano Beach, some residents say it’s time for the St. Johns County government to delay growth to take a closer look at the impacts on traffic, infrastructure and other issues as it progresses. as the community expands.
Specifically, the North Beach Community Alliance has collected around 1,300 signatures for a petition to suspend development, said Breau Alexander, a member of the group.
Vilano Beach is just north of St. Augustine’s Cove, and the coastal community includes a downtown area south of the Vilano Bridge, residential areas, and several hotels – including a new 50-room Holiday Inn Express at the 150 Vilano Road and a 120-room Hyatt Place which, in August, was due to open in the fall at 117 Vilano Road.
Alexander and Carol Anderson are among the residents who hope the county will step back and consider the community’s contribution to the future of Vilano Beach. They live north of the city center but south of Ponte Vedra beach.
“We don’t want to stop development,” Anderson said. “We know it’s important to the economy, to the people and the people who live here. And the idea of having some pretty cool things that you can do is great. But we want to have our say.”
The North Beach Community Alliance, among others, wants a moratorium on future developments “in the Vilano Main Street area until a much-needed assessment of the condition of the infrastructure is completed to determine if the community can support. and maintain the large current and proposed projects, “according to the group’s website.
The group, which is seeking nonprofit status, said significant changes have taken place in the region over the past 15 years or so.
Revive Vilano Beach
The first bridge that linked Saint Augustine to Vilano beach brought traffic directly to the heart of the seaside town. When motorists reached the west side, they traveled along Vilano Road, dotted on either side with little moms like Haley’s Comet Motel and Lazy Sands Bar.
When a new span, the Usina Bridge, was built in 1995, it was built further north on the Intracoastal, bypassing the commercial district.
Soon after, a public / private association called Vilano Beach Main Street Group was formed with the mission of creating a downtown Vilano that would support residential and commercial development and bring economic vitality back to Vilano Road while encouraging the walking and density, a movement sometimes called “new urbanism.”
In the 2000s, this group created a new streetscape reminiscent of Vilano’s original art deco and old Florida style and began to take an interest in business investment. The ensuing recession slowed that progress down somewhat, but in 2012 a long-awaited Publix grocery store opened along with new and renovated retail stores and restaurants.
Other businesses have sprung up in the neighborhood.
Today, existing hotels in the Vilano Beach Town Center / Main Street area include Hampton Inn & Suites (94 rooms), Oceanview Lodge (28 rooms), and Saint Augustine Beach House (16 rooms). Other vacation rentals in the Vilano area include Ocean Sands Inn, Beachcomber Cottages, and VRBO and Airbnb rentals.
And there are several new proposals in the works.
Among others, a 194-room hotel is proposed to replace the Magic Beach Motel. The Vilano Beach Hotel would be located at the northeast corner of Vilano Road and the Coast Road, according to the County Development Track. This would include a 5,800 square foot restaurant, 1,800 square foot retail outlet, and a 4000 square foot fitness center and spa.
Vivien Browning, president of Vilano Beach Main Street, said the group’s goal was not to take a stand on construction proposals, but rather to give developers recommendations on how these projects might fit into the look and feel of the surrounding area. This is done in collaboration with the North Coastal Corridor Overlay District Design Review Board (more commonly known as the “North Coastal Design Review Board”).
“We’re trying to give them an idea of how this will fit better into the community, especially following code and design guidelines,” Browning said.
Browning said that in the past the process has worked quite well, especially in the development of downtown Vilano.
As for the group’s first conversations with the developers of the Vilano Beach Hotel, Browning simply said, “We’ll see. … we will see.
In addition, 49 townhouses are planned on a vacant 3-acre lot at the intersection of Loja Street and Vilano Road in downtown Vilano. The residential project, put forward by Dylan Cadwalader and his group Vilano Springs Development, is located opposite the Holiday Inn Express.
With the new developments, traffic congestion and parking demand have increased, Anderson said.
The North Beach Community Alliance would also like to see greater community involvement, and earlier involvement, in the development process and more frequent communication about proposed developments and changes to those developments, Alexander said.
If a postponement of development should occur, the group wants an assessment on:
- Traffic and “proposed parking capacity for visitors, workers and citizens” using the city center, such as the Publix.
- “The effects of increased traffic on the Usina Bridge as well as north and southbound traffic on the A1A”.
- “The Impact of Developments on North Beach Utilities Wastewater and Drinking Water Supply” and Capacity.
- “The impact of developments on beach use and the environment.”
“What can we manage not just now, but 10 years, 20 years? Said Alexandre.
St. Johns County Development Impact Study
Alexander said that by the time a project reaches design review, much of the planning has already been done. Along the way, some residents are surprised by what they see compared to what they thought was coming.
“It’s kind of a broken system,” she said.
Deputy county administrator Joy Andrews said as of Monday she was not aware of any plans by the county to consider a hiatus for future development of Vilano Beach.
Andrews said many areas of the county are at a tipping point where further development may be too important for the region. It is not clear whether this is the case for Vilano Beach.
But as part of the development process, the county is looking at the potential impacts of developments on traffic, infrastructure and other things, she said.
“Growth will bring more people and more cars to the streets, and I think the concerns of residents and community organizations are more than valid,” she said. “So with every development that comes before our council of county commissioners, they take those who are looking very seriously at the impact on existing communities and how they can actually encourage smart growth.”
– Recording reporter Colleen Jones and correspondent Renee Unsworth contributed to this report.