Ponte Vedra condo association sues Dream Finders over buffer agreement

Article Courtesy of The St.Augustine Record
By Stuart Korfhage 

Published April 30, 2017


A dispute between a condominium association and a builder in a new development in Ponte Vedra Beach has reached a stalemate that has pushed one side to pursue legal action.

A lawsuit was filed Friday in St. Johns County by The Innlet at Ponte Vedra Beach Condominium Association against Dream Finders Homes.

The suit alleges that Dream Finders, at its development The Palms at Old Ponte Vedra, has refused to adhere to an agreement to provide an easement between the two communities.

According to Jane West, attorney for the condo association, in January 2016, the Innlet agreed to support the development before the St. Johns County Commission in exchange for various concessions, including placing a brick wall 10 feet from the Innlet property line on The Palms property.

The 10-foot strip of land was requested to serve as a landscaping buffer and would be a perpetual easement.

But West and Nancy Horne, president of the condo association, said that as the land clearing work on the site started, a large retention pond was built. That did not leave enough room for the 10-foot buffer promised by Dream Finders Homes.

“When they began construction, it became quite obvious that they weren’t adhering to that agreement,” Horne said. “I think they absolutely ignored the agreement. The frustrating thing is we fulfilled the terms of the agreement from our (position).”

The two sides negotiated in the first place because the developer needed access to the property off Corona Road. The Innlet owners decided to grant the access in exchange for the wall and the buffer. Normally, there is no buffer required between two residential developments.

Nancy Horne, president of The Innlet at Ponte Vedra Beach Condominium Association, stands near the edge of her driveway on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, adjacent to The Palms at Old Ponte Vedra construction site being developed by Dream Finders Homes. The association filed a lawsuit against Dream Finders Homes on Friday, alleging that the developers refused to adhere to an agreement to provide a 10-foot easement between the two communities.

However, the Innlet residents say they wanted the easement to maintain the beauty of their community.

“It diminishes our property value,” Horne said of the new development’s retention pond. “I think the long-term impact is that they are getting exactly what they wanted. They made a commitment to our community and they have failed to abide by it. They think that they can do it without consequence.”

Horne said her association didn’t want to file a lawsuit. She said the goal has always been to get the easement that was previously negotiated.

“They can either relocate the retention pond that is creating this issue onto a lot or reduce the size of it or whatever it takes to abide by the agreement,” Horne said.

Batey McGraw, the vice president of land for Dream Finders, said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of the lawsuit. He did say the company would defend it.

“I believe we will complete the project, and it will benefit the community,” McGraw said.

The Palms is one of dozens of communities in North Florida where Dream Finders is building homes. The Palms will be one of the smallest with 21 homes planned on 10 acres. McGraw said the homes will start at about $1 million.

Condos in The Innlet are about 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, and some are on the market for more than $300,000.

West said she’s disappointed that the dispute between Dream Finders and The Innlet has resulted in legal action. She said it’s financially burdensome for the condo owners to pursue a lawsuit.

At this point, she’s still hopeful the two sides will come to a resolution. Otherwise, she’ll work through the court system.

“Despite encouragement from all sides to settle the dispute, at the end of the day if those agreements aren’t adhered to by all parties, then it’s an impotent process,” West said. “This is not a complicated case. It’s a cut and dry breach of contract.”