Submitted by Dale Martin
City of Fernandina Beach
March 10, 2021
[The Fernandina Observer and other media outlets received the email below from Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin this afternoon. We publish it below to let our readers know some of the challenges the City confronts in trying to ensure that construction projects not only adhere to the Florida Building Code but that they do not endanger the health and safety of our residents and visitors.]
Let me offer a response to recent comments related to the Building Department and Building Official Mr. Stephen Beckman.
I do not offer this response as an unconditional defense of the Building Department: I acknowledge that challenges associated with online permitting, staffing, and fees remain to be addressed. Those efforts are ongoing. Another key effort is to improve customer service and support throughout the application, permitting, review, and approval process.
Most critically, it is imperative to recognize that the responsibility of the Building Department and staff, as described in the State of Florida Building Code, is to protect life and property. In that regard, Mr. Beckman has not only my support, but I hope that he also has your support. The efforts of the Building Department are to ensure that all buildings are safely constructed and maintained and that residents, businesses, and visitors are protected.
Let me share with you a few recent incidents associated with the efforts of Mr. Beckman and his staff.
- The hotel at Atlantic Avenue and Fletcher Avenue has incorporated numerous changes to the originally approved plan. When copies of the revised plan were requested from the developer, the developer indicated that a private provider had reviewed and approved all of the revisions. Shortly thereafter, the private provider indicated through an email message that no such review action had taken place. The construction at the hotel was originally indicated to have “non-combustible” trusses, but, through the efforts of Mr. Beckman, he discovered that wooden trusses had been utilized instead of the planned non-combustible materials. Significant safety revisions had to be redesigned and incorporated to ensure life and property safety of future guests, solely because of the actions of the developer (and the recognition by Mr. Beckman).
- A series of resort cottages on Sadler Road similarly failed to incorporate components of the approved electrical plan, altering the capacity, failing to identify electrical components, and failing to sufficiently bury other electrical components. These changes and failures necessitated repeat visits (and associated costs), with photographs and comments repeatedly documenting the failures.
- Many instances of inappropriate generator installation are well-documented (photographs). I expect that most residents do not understand many of the aspects of generators: a contractor is retained, completes the work, and moves on, with the resident homeowner generally pleased with the outcome. But does the homeowner know that generators, if on an elevated platform, have fire separation and combustibility requirements for the platform; must be at least five feet from windows or other openings (unless permanently sealed); have required depths for electrical components; if on a slab, must be fully supported and tied-down to the slab. It is the City’s Building Department, as part of its effort to protect life and property, that inspects for this compliance because it is typically beyond the knowledge of most homeowners.
- A recent complainant argued that because a local subcontractor had been doing similar work for so many years and was a nice guy, he should be exempt from the State requirements to be licensed. A further argument was advanced that because the building was old, it, too, should be exempt from State codes. Apparently, this issue has been resolved by the contractor securing appropriate documentation and insurance for his subcontractors.
- Dozens of examples of unlicensed contractors and unpermitted work have been discovered recently and regularly, especially on weekends.
- Chamber officials recently advocated on behalf of a local hair salon, urging the Building Department to hurriedly approve the facility. Upon inspection (no preliminary inspections had been requested), significant violations of mechanical codes, electrical codes, and fire codes were discovered (primarily due to the actions of the contractor, not the business owner). Again, it was the effort of City Building Department that the business and lives of its patrons has been secured.
- Another Chamber request was to similarly hurry approval for a new pizza business. Demolition and other work had commenced without any permits. Most recently, the bathrooms have not been constructed as approved and now do not meet accessibility requirements.
Despite these challenges, dozens of other projects, large (including another 200+ room hotel) and small, procced with minimal issues. According to Mr. Beckman’s monthly report, over three hundred permits were issued in the month of February (as were eight Stop Work orders). The Building Department’s efforts are routinely documented through the City’s online permitting system and on-site photographs. To re-emphasize, the City’s Building Department staff seeks to protect the life and property of City residents. These efforts by the Building Department provide additional benefits (lower costs) to City property owners through beneficial ratings for flood, fire, and property insurance.
If a property owner or contractor has any questions, I encourage the owner or contractor to contact the Building Department for additional information.