Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 16, 2017 1:53 p.m.
The Historic District Council (HDC) of the city of Fernandina Beach gave conceptual approval to two projects destined for the waterfront Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). Although both projects lie outside the bounds of the Historic District, the HDC has responsibility for overseeing design of projects within the CRA, which are reviewed against a separate set of design guidelines that recommend a style known as Industrial Vernacular for new construction.
Conceptual approval is provided as a courtesy to applicants at the request of the applicant. It is an opportunity to receive feedback from HDC members and the public for adjustment or incorporation into final design and construction documents.
HDC 2017-20, 500 S. Front Street: David E. Cook c/o Lynn Williams
Preservation Planner Sal Cumella presented this case, which proposed building a relatively simple single story structure on pilings on property zoned W-1 (Waterfront Mixed Use). In his staff report Cumella noted that while residential is permitted in this zoning category, it is required to be above a commercial or office use. Cumella also noted a number of items that must be included in the application before final approval may be considered, including:
- Signed, sealed, scaled survey of the property;
- Scaled site plan of the proposed work, including lot dimensions, setbacks, finished floor elevations and changes as a result of proposed building footprint;
- Photographs of the site;
- Drawings to scale showing all elevations of primary and accessory buildings;
- Product material details/specifications, including brochures or printouts, for all proposed materials as applicable and not limited to: doors, windows, roofing, exterior fabric, fascia/trim, shutters, fencing, sidewalk/driveway, landscaping, foundation, porch/deck, sheds, and proposed colors for all surfaces to be painted/stained/treated;
- Any additional material requested by the HDC during the conceptual review.
The staff report further stated “review of this project through a pre-application conference with the Technical Review Committee (TRC) will be required before this project can proceed for a final Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). This is a meeting between and applicant an representatives of City departments responsible for reviewing application for the purpose of exchanging information on the potential development of a site. This may include provident information in permissible used of the site; required improvements; infrastructure requirements; any potential regional, state or federal standards; requirements for supporting plans, documents and studies; and any applicable design standards.”
In presenting his case to the HDC property agent Lynn Williams explained, “This is a small house.” When questioned about the required commercial component, Williams explained that he would use the space under the house as a small boat repair facility, stressing that this would not be a “normal” boat yard with “people coming and going,” but would involve fixing up perhaps only one boat per year. There would be no employees, and the work would be done by Williams and property owner David Cook.
When pressed for more details Williams said that he might place a steel box on the property to securely store tools needed for this work.
HDC members quizzed Williams on the various items missing from his application: a current survey, a site plan, and information on materials to be used in construction. Williams pointed to a spot on a GIS photo of the property as the project location and said his survey was dated 2013, therefore not current. He added that he did not believe that he was required to provide details on materials, because the property was governed by CRA design guidelines, not Historic District design guidelines.
Williams further expressed his desire to move quickly on this project. He asked that the HDC allow staff to award final approval and a Certificate of Appropriateness to the project following their review of the items currently missing from the application. He claimed that it would be a hardship for him to wait for final HDC approval at a meeting later this summer.
In response to a comment from City Attorney Tammi Bach, Cumella said that the project has not yet been scheduled for TRC review, a review that generally occurs before or contemporaneously with final HDC review.
While HDC comments on the proposed structure were generally favorable, members appeared uncomfortable with being asked to delegate final approval authority to staff. Chair Michael Harrison attempted to explain to Williams that the process for approval of CRA projects is the same as that for Historic district projects, even though there are different design guidelines.
Member Bill Tilson asked Williams to consider additional design work on the understory, suggesting some type of enclosure. Williams said that he might consider some type of grillwork in the future. When Tilson asked about materials Williams proposed for windows, doors, etc., Williams replied that he hadn’t made up his mind yet on some of these and was considering scouting for wooden doors that he could refinish for the building.
Member Jennifer King Cascone, in hearing Williams’ comment that he had been working on this project for five years, seemed skeptical of his expressed need for a rapid project approval.
In an attempt to speed the process, the HDC asked Cumella to extend the deadline for submission of an application for final approval by three days so that the case could return for a decision at the July HDC meeting.
The HDC voted unanimously to approve the project in concept only for now.
HDC Cases 2017-21 through 23, 117 S. 2nd Street: Artisan Homes, LLC c/o Gillette & Associates
The HDC considered and approved unanimously three separate cases for the property located at 117 S. 2nd Street: a demolition, a variance, and a conceptual approval for two new townhouses.
The property is zoned MU-1 (Mixed Use) and is located in the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) outside the Historic District. A warehouse currently occupies the site.
Asa Gillette, representing Artisan Homes, explained that their plan is to demolish the 5,350 ft. warehouse and using the two 25 ft. original lots of record, construct two townhomes, each of which would contain a garage accessible from the street. Because of the size of the lots, he requested a variance in order to reduce from 10 feet to 3 feet side yard setbacks on each lot. Without the variance, the lots would be virtually unbuildable.
HDC members quizzed Gillette on the reduced setbacks and the intended use of the rear property. He replied that while the two buildings would be separated at the center by a firewall, the 3-ft. setback on the remaining sides was a requirement of Florida Building Code for safety purposed. The back yards abut additional undeveloped property owned by an adjoining property owner. Gillette said that the backyards would be landscaped, but would not be available for vehicle access.
HDC Member Bill Tilson said that while he normally opposes granting variances, he would support this request because it returned the property to the underlying lots of record.
The HDC unanimously approved the demolition and the variance.
Morgan Brown, representing Artisan Homes, LLC, presented the HDC with his company’s design proposal for the two townhouses, which will be built on S. 2nd Street directly opposite Artisan Homes’ townhouse project on the former Fernandina Lumber property. He presented a series of slides showing the relationship of the townhouses to the neighboring properties. He explained that designers understood the design requirement for industrial vernacular and included elements that they had observed on other downtown properties with respect to shutters and railings.
During discussion Brown indicated that there would be rooftop decks and that there would be plans to shield the mechanicals from street view. HDC member Bill Tilson, who also authored the CRA design guidelines, suggested that proposed columns and doors be reconsidered and brought more into line with an industrial look.
The HDC voted unanimously to approve the townhouse concept presented.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.