Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 26, 2015 6:40 p.m.

 

Former educational building owned by First Baptist Church at 19N. 5th
Former educational building owned by First Baptist Church at 19 N. 5th (Note that construction equipment is unrelated to Poynter’s proposed project.) 

Local businessman and Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Tim Poynter appeared before the city’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) this morning to discuss a proposal to convert the existing First Baptist Church education building located at 19 North 5th Street into a lodging facility. The property is zoned C-3, Central Business District, and is located between Centre and Alachua Streets. Poynter has proposed associated parking at the northeast corner of N. 4th Street and Alachua Streets, where a church parking lot has existed for over 20 years as a nonconforming use in a medium residential (R-2) zoning district.

Lot at the corner of N. 4th and Alachua Streets that has served as parking lot for First Baptist Church
Lot at the corner of N. 4th and Alachua Streets that has served as parking lot for First Baptist Church

 

Although the TRC listened to three cases today, most of the discussion centered on Poynter’s proposal. Poynter explained that he was performing his due diligence before embarking on the project in order to understand what the city would require in converting what had been an educational building into a 24-30 unit lodging facility.

Poynter, who with his wife owns two successful downtown restaurants, explained that he has been working on this idea for two years. While his floor plans have not been finalized, he shared general plans with the TRC in hopes of receiving further guidance from them before proceeding. He said that his intent is to repurpose an existing building in the Historic District that the Baptist Church vacated nine years ago. He would make no significant changes to the building’s exterior. The entire building would be a non-smoking building. He would design units, some one-bedroom and some 2-bedroom, as loft units. In response to a question, he said that he would not rent a unit for less than a week.

The closest parallel to his concept on the island is the Marriott Residence Inn on Sadler Road, in which lodgers can rent for weeks or months. Poynter said that he believed that longer-term rentals would have a positive impact on the Centre Street business district while minimizing traffic and parking impacts that would be caused by daily rentals in the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Poynter added that he would be adding currently untaxed property to city tax rolls. The structure is currently tax exempt as a church-owned property.

The TRC reviews applications and provides compliance reports for site plans, rezoning, amendments to the Land Development Code, preliminary subdivision plats, final subdivision plats, and amendments to previously issued local development orders. Membership includes, at a minimum, a representative from 5 City departments: Planning and Zoning, Utilities, Building, Facilities Maintenance, and the Fire Department.

TRC members review Poynter's project
TRC members review Poynter’s project (clockwise from front:   CDD Director  Adrienne Burke, Fire Marshal Jason Higginbotham, Utilities Director John Mandrick, Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary, Maintenance Director Rex Lester, Plans Examiner Don Kukla

Community Development Director Adrienne Burke raised concerns over parking requirements. Burke said that when Poynter initially approached her about the project, she had thought that the First Baptist Church was retaining their parking lot, and would either lease it to Poynter or agree to a shared arrangement. She explained that if Poynter were to purchase the parking area from the church, the land would lose its nonconforming use status and revert to R-2, meaning that it could not serve as a parking lot any longer. She added that exactly how many parking spaces Poynter would need for this project depended upon the final configuration of interior space and the final number of lodging units.

Tim Poynter addresses TRC.  Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Forstrom (blue shirt) looks on.
Tim Poynter addresses TRC. Code Enforcement Officer Michelle Forstrom (blue shirt) looks on.

Poynter said that initially the city had told him that as long as he left the existing church parking lot as is—no paving, curbs, islands or added landscaping—the nonconforming use would be grandfathered with the property sale. Burke said she regretted that city staff had not completely understood the situation before rendering the initial opinion.

Burke said that over the past years many potential purchasers of the property in question have approached her, but that plans have never materialized because of the associated parking issues. She agreed with Poynter that there is a need for short term housing downtown, adding that the code supports adaptive reuse of buildings in the Historic District. She suggested that Poynter explore all the possibilities that the code allows to provide parking off site as well as discussing shared parking with Nassau County, owner of the lot on the south side of the building.

John Mandrick, Utilities Department Director, and Fire Marshal Jason Higginbotham raised matters for Poynter to consider with respect to sewer impact fees, water meters, providing a fire line, confining the stairwell, adding self-closing doors, etc. Mandrick reiterated advice that he had provided to earlier applicants to pay sewer impact fees by the close of business on May 15 to avoid rate increases.

Plans Examiner Don Kukla and Tim Poynter chat.
Plans Examiner Don Kukla and Tim Poynter chat.

Plans Examiner Don Kukla, representing the Building Department, advised Poynter that he would need to add an elevator and ensure that all interior doors and hallways were ADA-compliant. Poynter said that the previous Building Official had said that an elevator would not be needed in a 3-story building. Kukla agreed to check current code and get back to Poynter.

Poynter submitted a preliminary floor plan for the building and indicated that his goal is to avoid exterior changes to the building. TRC members said that he might have to make changes to windows, in addition to adding a sign to the building.

 

Preliminary floor plan for first floor of Poynter project
Preliminary floor plan for first floor of Poynter project

There were additional discussions concerning water heaters, dumpsters, laundry and refuse chutes, as well as the best means to condition the interior space.

Maintenance Director Rex Lester looked toward the audience and said that he wanted to state for the record that information was being provided to Poynter in the same manner that the TRC would advise any potential developer. “There is no difference in the process,” he said.

Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary reminded audience members that because the property is zoned C-3 (Central Business District), it can be developed commercially. The units may not be converted into permanent dwellings, according to city code. The rental units may not be converted into apartments or condos and must remain short-term rental.

Adrienne Burke reinforced that she would like to see the building repurposed. “It would be good for downtown,” she said. Poynter said that parking is the lynchpin to the whole project. If that matter cannot be resolved, he will not be able to go forward with his plan.

Current church parking, Alachua Street side
Current church parking, Alachua Street side

Poynter has been working with and talking to permitting officials, church officials and neighboring property owners about the project. He said that St. Michael’s, which has been using part of the building for its pre-school, will be moving into a new facility. Poynter said that he has discussed his plans with Pastor Carlos Serrano, the Founder and Pastor of The Promise Land, a Christian Ministry that currently rents the former First Baptist Church sanctuary. He would anticipate that the church could continue to park its vans in the existing parking lot if his plans go forward.

Poynter is scheduled to appear before the city’s Historic District Council on April 16 with a request for a variance to allow him to equip each rental unit with a full sized refrigerator and a stove. Currently, he would only be allowed a mini fridge and a hot plate per unit.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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Neil Blalock
Neil Blalock (@guest_31357)
7 years ago

as a neighboring property owner I was not informed by Mr. Pointer about this project I heard about it earlier this week from someone else and actually called Tim about it. As I recall, I think there were restrictions on the non conforming use on the parking lot as well. In the midst of all of this push for uses on this property, I hope we would not forget the residential properties in this area and how they may be impacted.

Mrs. D Hunter
Mrs. D Hunter (@guest_31402)
7 years ago
Reply to  Neil Blalock

The Historic District residential property owners are foremost on my mind as well, Mr. Blalock. But the idea of urban lofts could be an entirely different matter if marketed as covenant-restricted single family dwellings for purchase only. Make them larger, fewer per floor, upgrade the finishes to top notch, keep the urban vibe. Pride of ownership trumps revolving door rentals every time.

Mrs. D Hunter
Mrs. D Hunter (@guest_31467)
7 years ago
Reply to  Mrs. D Hunter

“The units may not be converted into permanent dwellings, according to city code. The rental units may not be converted into apartments or condos and must remain short-term rental.”

I’m correcting myself here!

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_31360)
7 years ago

Looks to be a wonderful utilization of a non-use building, that is not on the tax rolls. Plus it would add to the downtown economy. Looks to be a win, win for the city and the Poynter family. I’m sure there will be push back from the anti poynter faction in town. The parking issue, could the Church continue to hold title to that area and rent it to Mr. Poynter? or a zoning change?

Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer (@guest_31368)
7 years ago

Just curious about something. Why did he wait till he’s back on the city commission to do this?

chuck hall
chuck hall (@guest_31390)
7 years ago
Reply to  Joe Palmer

Good morning! I imagine it is more difficult to get things changed for one personally, when one is in public office, as the lens of public criticism is so finely tuned.
I think a non-public-office time is better to announce this. But then again, time waits for no one.

T.F. Walker
T.F. Walker (@guest_31387)
7 years ago

This is the lead story in this edition? Mr. Pointer’s personal projects while a serving city commissioner will keep us entertained for the next few years I am sure.

Great Pointer picture in the News Leader this week. You may want to follow that story as well. Sounds like another lawsuit is on the horizon for the city. Mr. Pointer and his red fire truck my have trouble putting out that fire.

Why do Progressive publications like this one start with an agenda then fit or omit news to support it..

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_31436)
7 years ago
Reply to  T.F. Walker

Progressive? I’ve heard the News Leader called a lot of things. But progressive is not one of them. perhaps if your from Texas,maybe.

T.F. Walker
T.F. Walker (@guest_31538)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steven Crounse

I am talking about the Observer

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_31389)
7 years ago

As long as all codes are complied with, specifically Life/Safety and the American Disability Act (ADA) and the parking lot is not paved, which would add to already identified downtown stromwater problem it seems a reasonable project.

Teresa J. Sopp
Teresa J. Sopp(@tjsoppcrimlawyer-com)
7 years ago

This concept has worked well in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where travelers from all over the world go to worship at the “birthplace of American Blues.” There are many vacant storefronts in the downtown area that have been turned into beautiful lofts/apartments, available even for tw0-three night rentals. The business owners who run the Blues-related venues knew that no hotel chain would want to invest in the downtown area are grateful that the owners have done this. The places are beautiful and well maintained; guests pay all local taxes and fees as well as rental costs. Check out http://www.fiveanddimelofts.com. There is also a similar rental in Apalachicola called “The Consulate” in a historic building overlooking the river; see http://www.consulatesuites.com. This is a great idea from a talented business owner and should be supported by the community.

John P. Megna
John P. Megna (@guest_31399)
7 years ago

As the plans relate, it would add to the tax dollars and to the downtown businesses. As long as all the regulations are accepted and Tim can accept – I believe it is worthwhile for the City. I am sure all the anti – Tim fans will come out of the closet and voice their concerns. Remember, this has been a vacant building for long time, no one else has accepted the challenge this far – let’s let it go thru the legal steps and wait for those results. There are challenges for Tim to accept and decide.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_31410)
7 years ago

I have known Tim since the day he moved here. You may or may not like his politics and that is fine. He was elected, that in itself shows the majority of folks wanted him in office. I am not in line with Tim on certain issues and we have had heated debates in the past and I am sure that will continue in the future. The fact is Tim is a businessman. This is a proven fact if you look at the two successful restaurants that are flourishing downtown. He brings business to the downtown area, pays taxes and is the largest employer downtown. If you look at the quality, not only his food, but his properties as well, it becomes obvious that he is concerned about the ambiance of the area and does all he can do to invest in improvements and keep them in great shape. Tim is still a private citizen who has a track record of success. If he wants to spend his money, take a chance, and venture into this project, that is his right. He must however follow the rules, do all that is needed, and follow all restrictions as they would apply to any other business man wanting to invest in the City. Will everyone like it–NO. Will he be scrutinized every step of the way, far more so than Joe Blow who would try such a project —YES. The fact is this building has been vacant for many years. It brings in not one dime to the City with respect to taxes, and there are no plans for it in the future. Should this project work out, it will be a revenue generator for the City, a vacant building will have been remodeled and put to use and jobs will be created. I understand the concerns of many who live close by, this is perfectly normal. There are many rumors going around on social media, many are absurd. I had questions myself concerning this project. I got the answers by speaking with Tim personally. For all those that have questions and issues, Tim is an easy guy to find and I am sure he will take the time to explain exactly what is going on. At the end of the day you may like it or you may not, but at least you are getting the information from the source.

Adrienne Burke
Adrienne Burke(@aburkefbfl-org)
7 years ago

Feel free to send any zoning questions our way – aburke@fbfl.org. Our Land Development Code is at http://www.fbfl.us/LDC.

Jack Dickens
Jack Dickens (@guest_31440)
7 years ago

I’m a little lateand to the party here, but who currently owns the property, the church? Isn’t the city always short on office space and parking? Why not lease/buy it have the city make it an off site annex to city hall with a parking lot? That would be multipurpose and not overly infringe on the neighboring Historic area. It also would not need the R-2 lot to make it work unless I missed something. Don’t worry about adding to the tax roles so much and create something all citizens can utilize and we all know after 5 PM there is not enough parking downtown.

Myra Mains
Myra Mains (@guest_31461)
7 years ago

My only question right now is, if these are to be proposed short tem “vacation” rentals why would a person in the resturant business wanat to put full size stoves and refridgerators in the units.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_31471)
7 years ago

Co Editor, Your absolutely right, the only way this or any comment blog can possibly work is if the people “Own what they post.”

Andrew Curtin
Andrew Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
7 years ago

Well,folks,I smell a rat.Don’t have a visual on it yet,but…
During his first term on the commission,Mr.Poynter secured favorable decisions from the city and,for that matter the state on issues related to his businesses,as well as supporting extensive borrowing that would have greatly increased municipal debt without securing voter support.For these reasons,plus the dismissive and arrogant attitude that he frequently displayed toward the public led to his failure to receive a second term.Well now he is back with more”great”ideas.
Before going forward,I would recommend those who support him review the fable of the frog and the scorpion

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_31544)
7 years ago

Andrew, I know you personally dislike Mr. Poynter. Your posts and statements always suggest that. But the electorate saw what the alternative was in his two years he was off the Commission and decided to make a more moderate choice. Mr Poynter, like it or not is a business man. He saw an opportunity to make a business decision at this time, Which will benefit his family and our community. A’ll wager that he would have rather done this when he wasn’t a sitting commissioner, (under the radar) but Carpo Diem.

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