Tuesday, May 25, 2004


City approves contract for Sebastian Harbor project

A contract to buy the Sebastian Inland Harbor property for $3.6 million was unanimously approved Monday night by the St. Augustine City Commission.

The buyer is San Sebastian Harbor Partners of Ponte Vedra Beach, who will pay for about 13 vacant acres at King Street and the San Sebastian River at closing.

The principals of the company are Richard A. Newton Jr. and Mathew H. Merritt.

Newton said he had built mixed-use projects like this one in Atlanta, but said this was a "little more concentrated" in space.

"We fell in love with the site and the city," he said. "We tried to listen to the city commissioners and design it around what they wanted."

Closing will be within 120 days.

The plan as presented calls for 128 condominiums, about 20,000 square feet of loft and retail space, a 110-150 room hotel, 89-slip marina and river walk along the San Sebastian.

The purchase price does not include approximately 1.25 acres for a 518-car parking garage at Riberia and Lorida streets.

That property will remain in the city's possession and be leased to the developer. About half of the parking spaces will be parking for the retail space, the other half for the condo owners.

George McClure of Rogers Towers, representing Sebastian Harbor Partners, said the contract is a relatively complex one, because it includes additional requirements.

These include:
- The developers must present a detailed plan of development. "The final appearance is not represented by this drawing. It's just to give you an idea of our thinking. We're working on iterations of this particular plan," McClure said.

- The city must form an Architectural Review Committee, consisting of one representative of the city, one of the developer and another satisfactory to both to make minor decisions involving color, lighting and lay out so every design decision doesn't have to come before the commission.

- The city must apply for a modification of its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for 85 boat slips to increase it to 89 slips, so there will be four public access slips near the mouth of the marina. The permit change will also have the marina lined with a bulkhead rather than the rip-rap shoreline already approved.

- The city will clear 4.6 acres of mitigation property on South Riberia Street to create marshland, at a cost of $11,500 per acre, with those costs to be reimbursed by the developer.

- A development agreement must be signed between the city and developer in regard to the parking garage. The city will pay for the garage, and the developer will pay for the spaces needed for condo owners.

- A vault system would be installed under the garage by the developers to control runoff.

- If contamination is found in the soil of the marina basin, Atlanta Gas Light Co. has already agreed to protect the purchaser and pay for any necessary cleanup. The company used to own a manufactured gas plant on the site.

- The developer would preserve public access to the boardwalk and amphitheater.

A separate motion by Commissioner Susan Burk, which passed 5-0, changes the access routes to easements. "We've all seen how public access somehow becomes no longer public, like the beach in Ponte Vedra," she said.

Commissioner Bill Lennon pointed out that the city will be responsible for building and maintaining the garage.

He said the city should let the developers build the garage instead and then lease 100 spaces from them for the shoppers, because the building would then be on the city's tax rolls.

"We're going into the garage business, which the city should not be in," Lennon said.

But Commissioner Don Crichlow said the city needs all the parking it can get.

"If we can get 200 spaces, I want them," he said.

The contract was negotiated by Chief Administrative Officer Tim Burchfield and city staff.

He wrote in a May 19 memo to City Manager Bill Harriss, "While complex, the agreement was developed to protect the interests of the city as well as the development team."

Newton nodded when asked if he was nervous after agreeing to spend $3.6 million.

He and Merritt had gone to college together and had been friends ever since.

"We designed this project around the public spaces -- the amphitheater and the boardwalk," he said.

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