By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
December 16, 2021

“Hopefully, the commissioners understand that the residents of Amelia Island are tired of overdevelopment and more and more traffic.  Plus, the destruction of the trees and natural environment, those things which make the island unique in the first place. You know how hard it is to turn right out of any of the streets off First Coast Hwy.”


Land use planning. Essential housing. Policies and procedures. Due process. Public notice.
Trust and transparency.

Those were just a few of the topics first and foremost on the minds and in the hearts of those in attendance at the December 13, 2021 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

Part of the reason for such a marathon session (which lasted more than three hours) was an agenda item proposing a zoning change on a 1.67 acres parcel located on First Coast Highway south of Tradewinds Way.

Currently, that 1.67-acre parcel is zoned Residential Single Family-1 (RS-1) which caps the number of housing units at six. That parcel is owned by James Aberson and his sister Amy Beverly. They have had the property for over fifty years. Aberson and Beverly have been trying to sell the parcel for about three years.

Representing the current property owners and making an official presentation was Spurgeon Richardson, a principal with the firm of Oglethorpe Development, LLC. The Oglethorpe group was recently behind the development of the Vintage Amelia Apartments. According to the Property Appraisers Office, before the development of the apartment complex, the land was valued at just over $400,000. Now, the land value is almost $2.7 million.

A potential buyer, Richardson was hoping to get the zoning changed for this particular parcel from RS-1 to RG-1, which would allow for the construction of up to 13 townhomes. More than 91 pages of comments in opposition to the proposed zoning change were added to the official record.

The zoning change had previously been approved by the Planning and Zoning Board on November 16, 2021, by a vote of 7-3.

Spurgeon Richardson, a principal with the firm of Oglethorpe Development, LLC speaks to Nassau County Board of Commissioners.

Richardson argued that the zoning change would “even the playing field,” by making that property consistent with surrounding parcels, including The Colony. The property is right down the street from the Harris Teeter shopping center.

Said Richardson, “You’re not going to get six homes to sell [there] surrounded by The Colony and all the retail.”

Holly Coyle, Assistant Director of the Planning Department, gave a detailed report which underscored the fact that both RS-1 and RG-1 were compatible with the existing Nassau County Comprehensive Plan and the Future Land Use Map (FLUM).

After much debate and discussion, once the public hearing was closed, Chairman Thomas Ford said, “I don’t see how we can deny this.” County staff, like the Planning and Zoning Board, recommended approval.

 

 

Following the comment made by Commissioner Ford, Commissioner Aaron Bell (District 2) made a motion to deny the zoning change.  That motion was seconded by Commissioner John Martin (District 1).

The motion to DENY the zoning change was approved by a vote of 3-2 with Commissioner Klynt Farmer (District 5) voting with Martin and Bell to maintain the current zoning of RS-1.

Said Lyn Pannone, of the Amelia Tree Conservancy, “Hopefully, the commissioners understand that the residents of Amelia Island are tired of overdevelopment and more and more traffic.  Plus, the destruction of the trees and natural environment, those things which make the island unique in the first place. You know how hard it is to turn right out of any of the streets off First Coast Highway.”

According to the Property Appraisers Office, the 1.6 acre parcel is currently appraised at a market value of $487,841.

Letter from Property Owner to BOCC:

Dear Board Members,

My sister, Amy Beverly, and I own the property at 4820 First Coast Hwy. Please let me explain what’s going on with the rezoning request. My family has been on the island since the mid 50s when my great-grandparents purchased the property at 3146 South Fetcher. My grandparents then purchased our property in 1964 to be near my great-grandfather because of failing health. My Grandfather was a retired WWII veteran of the Merchant Marines. In fact, my great- grandparents discovered the island while picking him up in Mayport on multiple occasions. My grandmother taught at Emma Love Elementary school. My father worked multiple shut-downs of Rayonier. My uncle retired from Container Corporation. I have lived in that house for varying periods of time since I was four years old. My sister has all of her life. I spent a week one summer rebuilding a car engine with my father and uncle. I rode dirt bikes on the property before it was divided. I explored in the woods as a boy. I’ve weathered tropical storms and hurricanes there.

We are a working class family with roots on this island and our tax dollars helped pay for the roads, water, sewer, schools and all of the programs and services of the county for seventy years. My father inherited the front half of the property when my grandparents died, his brother got the other half. After my mother’s death in 1991 my father moved into the house. My sister and I inherited the property in 1993 after his death. We both grew up spending holidays and extended vacations on the island. For several years my wife and I spent two or three weekends a month here. We love this property.

We have held out selling our property for fifty years while we have watched land develop all around us, but we can’t hold out any longer. We made the decision to sell over three years ago, not because of the current Real Estate BOOM. For several reasons, we have to sell the property. Like I said we are working class folks. We don’t have large bank accounts or trust funds. I have been in a wheelchair for forty years. I have worked, when I wasn’t in school, all of those forty years. But now my body is failing and I can’t continue to work. I’ve paid all of the taxes and upkeep on the property myself. And it’s been a struggle. As you know taxes continue to rise every year. My sister can’t help. She is in financial straits because of a deadbeat ex-husband. After I retire my income will be half of what it is now. The taxes alone on the property will be more than ten percent of my Social Security payment. We HAVE to sell the property. And we aren’t making a killing by selling it either. Remember the proceeds will be split between us. And that has to last the rest of our lives. My wife and I had hoped to use our proceeds from the sale to purchase a home on the island and retire here. But we can’t even find a reasonable property that we could afford with half of the sale price. We just can’t afford to live here.

When I looked into selling the property, the Future Land Use Map indicated High Density Multi-Family so that’s what we listed it as. That is what the Planning Commission decided was the appropriate zoning for controlled, reasonable growth for that area. As you may recall, in 2010 the Nassau County Future Land Use Map was updated. Stakeholders, Steering Committees, Nassau County Planning & Zoning and other local experts deemed this property to be on the FLUM as “High Density”. The property is currently zoned RS-1 which the Land Development Code for Nassau County interprets as low density. A zoning change to RG-1 is consistent with the existing FLUM and adjacent property “The Colony”, which is also zoned RG-1. Further, a zoning change would also provide a transition with the adjacent commercially zoned properties.

As for the trees. I know every inch of that property and every tree on it. I grew up with them. There are beautiful old oaks on that property that I climbed on as a kid. I don’t want them cut down, and they won’t be. They are protected by law. I have spoken with the developer. We have done a tree survey and I promise you he isn’t going to clear-cut the property and throw up apartments. His plan is to build tasteful high end townhomes disturbing as few trees as possible and in accord with other buildings in the area. In addition, rezoning is not really the time to address trees anyway. That will come at the site plan approval. As will a traffic study if requested. That’s the appropriate time to have input on those things.

I’m sure you have sold a house in the past. You may have repainted, spruced up the landscaping, or made a few repairs so that you could get as much for your property as possible. My house is a cinder block structure built in the forties. Some of the docks or garages built on the island are worth more than my house. The only way I can get the maximum amount for my property is to have it zoned to match the property surrounding it. I have commercial property to the right and left of me, and multi-family behind me. My property is an island of single family zoning.

As I said before, we have to sell this property. We just can’t afford to keep it. And that breaks my heart. As I said, I’ve spent my whole life on this island.

As a person with a disability I’ve never asked for special treatment and I’m not asking for that now. I just want the property to match what’s around it. With this rezoning my sister and I can sell the property as planned. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is an existential issue for us. I just can’t tell what selling this property means to my family. Thank you.

James Aberson

Amy Beverly

 

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Veeh Jay
Veeh Jay
6 months ago

This current group of county commissioners want their cut just like the past group who approved all the other screwed up on the South end of the island. 91 pages of bitching from Yankees who created the traffic. Nobody is concerned about what is right or equitable. Shame on the commissioners.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes
6 months ago

Mr. Aberson makes a good case, albeit a personal one, for the zoning change. He wants to maximize their ability to profit on the sale of the property, but it would be at the expense of the rest of the community and our natural environs. We are at the point on Amelia Island, and in Nassau County, where community and conservation needs take precedence. They will still make a very hefty profit with the property’s current zoning. And, by the way, Mr. Aberson‘s playing of the local boy, veteran, teacher, and other cards does not sit well with me. I grew up on this island, also, but it does not afford me any special privilege, and neither should it anyone else. Community comes first.

Carl McDonald
Carl McDonald
6 months ago

Was this zoning change approved or not? The headline conflicts with the last paragraph.

Thomas Lohman
Thomas Lohman
6 months ago

Like Mr. McDonald, I’m a little confused by the abrupt ending to the story. Would the writer please provide details of how each commissioner voted? I need to remember for the next election. Thanks to the ones who voted against the change; just because something is allowed doesn’t mean it must be approved.

Susan Steger
Editor
6 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Lohman

Tommy, I goofed and cut off the end of Cindy’s article. Sorry about that. The full article is now available for your reading.

J.R. Lang
J.R. Lang
6 months ago

Thanks to the county commissioners. It is a shame our two newest city commissioners do not vote in a like manner as per the last zoning change on Bailey road. It appears if the land is incorporated into the city with utilities the previous zoning is changed. At least two of our city commissioners voted against this practice.

John Calkins
John Calkins
6 months ago

If this lot is located where it is has become improbable that anyone would build a single family home due to surrounds, it certainly seems unfair to penalize long term owners for keeping it natural for half a century. Further, if surrounding parcels were similarly rezoned at some prior time, it once again would be unfair to penalize the past and present long term owners. I doubt those objecting have a similar history on the island.

Janice Clarkson
Janice Clarkson
6 months ago

In my opinion, having a disability (financial or physical) doesn’t entitle you to special treatment. People with disabilities deserve to have their disabilities accommodated for sure, but essentially using the disability as an excuse to change the zoning is not appropriate.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins
6 months ago

Shameful vote by three of the County Commissioners overruling the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Board. This parcel of land is adjacent to a condo complex and to make a vote to limit the property to 6 homes versus 16 townhomes is idiotic. Commissioner Martin your vote is an obvious pander to your most vocal activist constituents. You are hurting the property owner more than you are helping keep 10 more cars off the road. And what is Commissioner Farmer out on the West side objecting to? Common sense should have one out here. You are there to be stewards or our County and not to cave to the mob who shows up every time anyone wants to build something new on Amelia Island. Politics and local government at its worst.

Ben Martin
Ben Martin
6 months ago

“The Law is often used to enrich one group of citizens over another.” – Bastiat

The fact that the property is an “Island” of single family zoning means that the neighboring owners have gained at the expense of Mr. Aberson. No? Do those adjacent property owners have influence over certain city council members?

Maybe the “Free Market” is smarter and wiser than any governing body. If Fernandina becomes too crowded people will move away.

People seeking homes would have more options if the land was zoned similarly to the surrounding properties.

Homes would be less expensive if more of them were available.

Jason Collins
Jason Collins
6 months ago

Ms. Jackson,
Did you have the opportunity to interview or question the three Commissioners on their reasons why they took the extraordinary step of overturning the Zoning Board? I just want someone to inform me on how this is not purely a symbolic gesture by three Commissioners looking for votes. No trees will be saved Ms. Pannone. No traffic will be alleviated. The land will be sold and something will be built there. No one will benefit by this decision (except maybe for those Commissioners) but for sure the property owners will be hurt financially.

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