ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Dozens of residents showed up at a St. Johns County Commission meeting Tuesday morning to call for the county to cancel an already approved 33,000-square-foot assisted living facility in their rural neighborhood.
After hours of public comment, the commissioners unanimously sided with the residents and essentially put an end to the planned facility by voting to appeal the county staff’s interpretation of how the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code is applied for assisted living facilities when located in a Residential Future Land Use designation and zoned open rural. The vote will likely put an end to any future plans for the facility.
Neighbors in the quiet neighborhood near World Golf Village said the facility does not fit in with nearby farms and went against the county’s land development code. But the owners argued their plans were already approved by the county and said they chose the location because of the quiet setting.
Filipino immigrants Guillermo and Marjorie Labial bought the property on Silo Road for $490,000, county records show, with the hopes of building a 33,000 square foot, 48-bed assisted living facility. The couple’s plans were recently approved by the county’s long-range planner and land at the property has recently been cleared of trees ahead of construction.
But a group of Mill Creek Estates residents led by Robert Lupoli appealed the county’s decision.
“We bought into this community knowing it was rural. There’s peacocks walking around the streets. It’s a rural community, there is horses, donkeys. This is not the place for a commercial complex,” Lupoli said.
Dozens of neighbors wearing red ribbons backed him up, saying that decision could open the possibility of more commercial buildings popping up in other rural St. Johns County neighborhoods.
But the Labials said they chose the location because of its tranquility and did their research before the purchase.
“After much inquiry with a realtor and a builder who has much experience with this kind of undertaking, it was determined that this property was indeed a suitable place for an assisted living facility,” Marjorie Labial said.
The couples’ lawyer argued if there is an issue with the county’s decision, it should be changed moving forward, not retroactively, but in the end, the commission sided with the upset residents.
“The Gilmar proposed assisted living facility, I also find it incompatible with this particular community,” St. Johns County Commissioner Henry Dean said. “Now, my dilemma as one commissioner, is I’m not one hundred percent sure how to get the toothpaste back in the tube.”
It’s not clear right now what will happen with the property and the owners moving forward, but Dean did propose that the county reimburse the couple of any money it may have spent when it went through the code and building process.