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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 1, 201901:10 PM EST

Morgan’s Cove project back again

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New owner from St. Simons Island, Georgia, proposes to develop 279 acres into a single-family community.
by: Jay Schlichter Staff Writer

A strip of undeveloped land in central St. Johns County that has been proposed for residential, mixed-use and assisting living projects called Morgan's Cove since at least 2006 is back for consideration.

The 279-acre property, which starts at County Road 214 and runs north along the eastern edge of Interstate 95, changed hands in December, with the latest owner attempting to give development another shot.

According to Army Corps of Engineers and St. Johns County documents, the land has had multiple owners, all of whom had different ideas on what to build there.

Morgan's Cove Ventures LLC bought the property Dec. 4 and proposes to construct a single-family residential community. The company, run by a manager named John Byrnes in St. Simons Island, Georgia, paid $2 million for the land.

It bought it from DI-FL No. 1 LLC, a subsidiary of Texas Banc Financial Corp. and Doss Investments in Fort Worth, Texas.

That bank foreclosed on the land in 2016 after the previous owner, Morgan's Cove LLC, failed to pay its $6 million mortgage, according to St. Johns County court documents. Morgan's Cove LLC was managed by Baron L. Bartlett, a Ponte Vedra Beach real estate attorney.

Byrnes, Bartlett and Corps officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In August 2018, Byrnes submitted a permit application and site plans with the Corps. The agency's report says the project would impact almost 1 acre of wetlands and could affect wood storks and Eastern indigo snake populations.

The report also said the Corps previously approved a mixed-use development with residential and commercial spaces on the property.

“In consideration of current market trends, the applicant revised the project design, reduced the area of work affecting wetlands, and eliminated the commercial development adjacent to County Road 214,” the Corps report said.

“The revised project would only provide moderate to lower cost residential housing for this region of St. Johns County (no commercial component). The applicant expressed an opinion that the work proposed is the minimum necessary to successfully establish a residential subdivision at the site.”

On Dec. 4, the St. Johns County Commission approved a request by Byrnes to transfer the project's impact fee credits of $779,142 paid by the previous owner to Morgan's Cove Ventures.

In March 2012, The St. Augustine Record reported that Bartlett proposed to develop the property into space for 266 houses and a 200-bed assisted living facility that would bring an estimated 133 new jobs to St. Johns County. That was a reduction of a previous plan to build 283 homes, the article said.

The maps included with the latest development proposal submitted to the Corps in August do not show specific details of how many single-family homes would be built on the land.

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