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Man claims Gate Petroleum 'deforested' 21 acres of land in Ponte Vedra without regard to neighbors

Robert McVay told First Coast News his backyard of 12 years used to have trees along the back fence.

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. — Deforestation. That’s how Robert McVay describes what Gate Petroleum has done to the 30 acres next to his neighborhood.

The company has cleared that land in Ponte Vedra on A1A for a gas station and a car wash. But that’s only on a third of the clear-cut land.

McVay told First Coast News his backyard of 12 years used to have trees along the back fence. Granted, they were not on his property, but it was full of "dense palms, brush, tall pine trees."

Now, the trees are gone, and his view is of a construction site and clear-cut land. 

"Gate Petroleum started coming in here and clearing everything," he said.

Gate Petroleum owns the land on the other side of his backyard. The company received a St. Johns County permit to clear the land in 2021. It’s 30 acres. Nine of those acres are for a gas station and car wash which are almost completely built. 

But the remaining 21 acres is nothing right now.

"They (construction crews) went right up to the property lines," McVay said. 

Now he can see straight through to the car wash, gas station and A1A.

Gate sent McVay a letter about the tree plan for the side of Gate's land near his backyard. The letter said some trees will remain in the 10-foot buffer, "as you can see this includes the majority of the trees in the buffer."

There is one tree left in that buffer by his home. "If that’s their idea of the majority of trees, we have a different opinion of what majority means," McVay said. 

He showed photos to First Coast News of dust covered patios that, he said, blew off the cleared land. McVay said he has seen raccoon families and deer leaving the area or wandering aimlessly in the cleared land. 

The question is, what’s going on those 21 extra acres?

First Coast News reached out to Gate. Eden Southerland is the Marketing Director at Gate Petroleum Company. She told First Coast News, "At this time, we do not have plans or a timeline for the remaining 21 acres."

Additionally, Southerland stated that Gate cleared the 21 acres “to allow leveling and to ensure storm water drained properly.”

McVay scratches his head with that explanation. "That just doesn’t add up."

Jacob Smith is the Supervisor of Planning in St. Johns County's Growth Management Department. He told First Coast News that an early clearing and grading permit can be issued even when no specific project plans have been submitted, and that’s what happened in this case.

Southerland said, "As we wrap up construction, we are finalizing plans to establish a buffer between the perimeter of our property and the adjacent neighbors."

McVay believes there were plenty of mature trees already on the land before the clearing started that could have created a buffer.

 "They could’ve just left it, and it would’ve made people so happy."


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