By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
April 26, 2022

On March 7, 2022, Rogers Towers sent a letter to Nassau County threatening to sue for $27 million.

50 acres of real estate located on Amelia Island’s southend.

First to the podium at the April 25, 2022 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), were two gentlemen to discuss a long contentious 50-acre parcel on the south end of Amelia Island owned by Riverstone Properties.

Jack Roberts and Tony Smeraglinolio, both longtime residents of the south end, were there to encourage Commissioners to “stand their ground” and stand by the ordinance approved by the BOCC almost a year ago – on June 14, 2021. That ordinance was developed to establish height restrictions on new construction – not to exceed 35 feet – matching what is already on the books in Fernandina Beach.

Facing stiff opposition from Riverstone as represented by the Roger Towers law firm, that ordinance was amended in August of 2021 to permit structures of up to 45 feet. Theoretically, this was done so that high-end single-family homes could be built.

On March 7, 2022, Rogers Towers sent a letter to Nassau County threatening to sue for $27 million. That figure of $27 million represents the owner’s opinion of the lost value of the parcel with legal action provided under the Bert Harris Private Property Protection Act. The Bert Harris Private Property Protection Act was designed to protect a landowner against any lost value of their property due to actions taken by government. Florida is one of just a few states that provides for such a cause of action.

Riverstone envisioned building 11 84-foot towers – a project much larger than even the Carlton Dunes which has seven towers.

That vision would put the land value at an estimated $72 million.

If the tall towers are not permitted and Riverstone must resort to building 45-foot condominium towers instead, the land value, according to the owners, is reduced to $45 million . . . representing a loss of $27 million, the figure for which Riverstone has threatened to sue the County.

Opponents of the Riverstone project have offered another alternative – suggesting instead the building 18-oceanfront lots with an estimated value of $3 million each coupled with 18 lots near the beach with an estimated value of $1 million per structure. The end result – a cumulative value estimated to be $72 million, if not more.

They claim such a concept would preserve the character of the Island and protect so much of the natural environment that gives Amelia Island its unique character.

Both Mr. Roberts and Mr. Smeraglinolio encouraged the BOCC to seek outside and independent counsel to review the matter.

County Attorney Denise May

When asked to comment on the matter, County Attorney May said, “The action is still pending and taking its course pursuant to the statutory timelines.  Please forgive me that I cannot comment on further litigation.”    However, between Mr. Roberts and Mr. Smeraglinolio comments, Ms. May could be heard speaking very quietly saying, “Commissioners, just a gentle reminder that this is threatened pending litigation and I am still advising that you not comment on it.”

An attorney with of Rogers Towers, Emily Pierce, a frequent representative of the firm on land use cases was in attendance at the meeting.

To view the BOCC meeting of June 14, 2021, when the height restriction ordinance was passed, go to https://nassaucounty.novusagenda.com/AgendaPublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=911&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda

 

 

Editor’s Note: This morning, Mr Tony Smeraglinolio posted the following comment on this article.

“Our recommendation to seek outside counsel is based on a Corporation’s best practices. While Corporations and our County has competent and dedicated internal legal talent, it is prudent to seek out experts in the narrow part of the law regarding a particular suit. This outside independent look provides insight to the strength or weakness of the suit and you can negotiate accordingly.

It was further brought to the Commissioner’s and County Attorney’s attention that we took it upon ourselves to have a respected firm look at the Riverstone claim and they essentially said it was frivolous and an attempt to bully the County.

While the vast majority of us do not want to see these towers we must follow the law and the law appears to be on our side. We urge the County to get outside counsel and not fall prey to these heavy handed tactics.

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34 Comments
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Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes
2 months ago

Even 45 feet for a single-family residence is much too high. Also, what a crazy law that allows businesses to sue for lost property value when a legislative body makes a law designed for the community good. It means any law designed to clean up pollution, conserve critical ecosystem habitat, or maintain the health of people living nearby a factory or manufacturing business get to reap the rewards of a supposed future development. Of course, the people making these laws, are the same ones who are developing land or benefiting in other financial ways from development. When will our legislators, and the people who vote for them, realize that rampant development eventually costs citizens much more than the paltry amount of development fees and taxes we receive?

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr.
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Why am I not allowed to vote for this comment? Mark makes a real point.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago

I just did without issue.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

You are absolutely right Mr. Tomes!! To hell with developers!! They can go elsewhere.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill Fold

RIGHT ON Bill!

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

RIGHT ON Mark!

Lyn Pannone
2 months ago

Riverstone is trying to get the county to roll over and play dead. The county needs to get an outside opinion instead of just negotiating with Riverstone. Outside attorneys have already written an opinion that the county is not liable because other development, such as single family homes, based on current real estate sales, could result in as much profit. You don’t negotiate with people who are trying to shake you down.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr.
2 months ago

Bert Harris again shows it’s ugly face.

Lyn Pannone
2 months ago

Riverstone claims to want to build 11 seven story condo towers next to the state park at the south end of Amelia Island.  Sounds like Miami Beach II. Just what everyone wants, Over Development.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Lyn Pannone

That’s right Lynn, I watched the MONEY-HUNGRY developers totally DESTROY all the beautiful old landmark buildings in Ft. Laud. all my life, only to turn it into a mini N.Y.C. Then after I bailing out to come here, 15 later they’re trying their best to DESTROY this BEAUTIFUL place. After it’s gone, it’s gone FOREVER!!!

Drew Skonberg
Drew Skonberg
2 months ago

One question, did these developers not know the restrictions when they purchased the property? Of course they did, and the purchase price they paid was reflected in that. There was no misrepresentation on the part of the county, no promises made. Like any purchase, do your due diligence and let the chips fall. A hard NO, line drawn without ANY compromise. Another land developer whose greed and ambition supersedes what’s right for the area. Tell them to take a long walk off a short pier.

Collin Fordham
Collin Fordham
2 months ago
Reply to  Drew Skonberg

Riverstone has actually owned the property for ~20 years. The height ordinance issue was enacted in response to potential development on that site, which is pretty much exactly the kind of thing the Bert Harris Act was intended to prevent. Govt’s abusing their power to take away property rights for owners.

Make no mistake, I HATE the idea of 11 seven-story towers on that site and agree with the 35′ height restriction by rule. It’s what makes the island great. But I also stand on the side of property rights.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Collin Fordham

I totally understand what your trying to say, but totally WRONG, under these CIRCUMSTANCES!!! This is not a private land owner possibly like yourself, so it totally turns the table around.

Creighton "Corky" Hoffman
Creighton "Corky" Hoffman
2 months ago

As suggested at the meeting Monday night, the commissioners should now retain independent outside counsel to review Riverstone’s claim. This is what responsible corporate boards do all the time when confronted with large claims. And, in this case, the county’s insurance will apparently pay the cost.

Attorneys already working on behalf of the citizens have found the legal claims totally without merit. One major Florida firm, specializing in Bert Harris claims, concluded that this is simply a “Hail Mary Pass” by Riverstone’s counsel to get something it couldn’t get legitimately.
 
The claim for $27 million is equally bogus and intended only to scare the county. It is entirely without foundation.

Riverstone says that our commissioners acted wrongly and stupidly last June when they moved to prevent any new towers on Amelia Island – just like the City of Fernandina had done previously.

An independent legal review should make clear that they did nothing wrong.
 
Our commissioners should be thanked profusely for the actions they took on our behalf last June.

Tim Moore
Tim Moore
2 months ago

If the County Commission or Fernandina Beach give into the Riverstone demands, they will set a precedence for future development and send a message that they fold under pressure. The County Commission passed the ordinance in June 2021 (backing the original Fernandina Beach Ordinance) for a reason – a reason still exists i.e. the environmental and stoic preservation of Amelia Island. Riverstone would have to prove that the both Fernandina Beach and the County Commission had specific punitive intent against them when the original ordinance was passed. This should be an easy decision in favor of the Town/County, if it ever comes before a judge. Threats and intimidation should be documented. – Watching.

Last edited 2 months ago by Tim Moore
Dave Lott
Dave Lott
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim Moore

Tim, the City of Fernandina Beach has no legal interest in this matter as the property is nowhere close to being within the City limits.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim Moore

Great point!

Tony Smeraglinolo
Tony Smeraglinolo
2 months ago

Our recommendation to seek outside counsel is based on a Corporation best practices. While Corporations and our County has competent and dedicated internal legal talent , it is prudent to seek out experts in the narrow part of the law regarding a particular suit. This outside independent look provides insight to the strength or weakness of the suit and you can negotiate accordingly.

It was further brought to the Commissioner’s and County Attorneys attention that we took it upon ourselves to have a respected firm look at the Riverstone claim and they essentially said it was frivolous and an attempt to bully the County.

While the vast majority of us do not want to see these towers we must follow the law and the law appears to be on our side. We urge the County to get outside counsel and not fall prey to these heavy handed tactics.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago

Great work Mr. Smeraglinolo, I applaud you on your investigation!

Richard Grice
Richard Grice
2 months ago

The construction of eleven condo towers at the southern end of Amelia Island—in direct contravention to the existing and very popular construction height restrictions duly adopted by Nassau County last year and in direct contravention of the entire character of our Island—would be catastrophic.

Further, it is my opinion that the county attorney is intending to resolve the most important zoning matter Amelia Island has faced in the last 20 years quickly and quietly by circumventing required citizen notice and hearing procedures and without the assistance of expert counsel.

Instead of settling this matter quickly and without citizen input, Nassau County and the county attorney need to stand up and defend its duly adopted and proper ordinances. If not, the citizens of Nassau County should take all necessary and proper legal action, including obtaining injunctive relief against the entry into any settlement agreement regarding the Riverstone claim, to stop the construction of more condo towers.

Do not let Amelia Island become Miami Beach II!

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Grice

I second rhat motion!

Diana Herman
Diana Herman
2 months ago

Eleven “Carlton Dunes” towers on the beach next to our state park??!!
That’s what Rogers Towers, counsel for Riverstone, says we need.
Remember, this is the same Rogers Towers who wanted us to have a large racetrack in the middle of our island.
Our commissioners did the right thing last June to prohibit such developments.
Let’s stand by them now to defend their actions and our island!

Dave Lott
Dave Lott
2 months ago
Reply to  Diana Herman

Don’t shoot the messenger. Rogers Towers was hired by its client Riverstone to advocate what it believes to be its legal rights. Plain and simple. The Bert Harris Act is a powerful property rights piece of legislation with a large number of precedents.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Diana Herman

Good point Diane, that’s the same counsel we fought with the city. I was one of the people who spoke at that city coucil meeting, after doing a full and complete investigation on high decibel sound levels that some of Dodge Hellcat produced automobiles with 800-1,000hp and how far away you can actually hear them. And I am a collector car guy that would have loved to have something like this so conviently located to me, just not right here in OUR OWN beautiful backyard on Amelia Island. I even lost a friendship with Mr. Warner over it.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr.
2 months ago

Dueling appraisals, responsible land use regulation, and the Bert Harris Act today. Bad ju ju.
https://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/billsummaries/2021/html/2478, https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2021/421/Analyses/h0421z1.CIV.PDF

Pam Troxel
Pam Troxel
2 months ago

Fight the good fight, Tony!! Thank you for stepping up and speaking out!

Richard Woodward
Richard Woodward
2 months ago

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’m curious to ask a question of those of you who do: How does the height of a building – whether a condo or a single-family home – impact you? Whether it’s 10′ tall or 100′ tall, you can’t see through it or over it. Whether it’s 15′ tall or 75′ tall, it has no larger of a footprint or environmental impact. Can someone explain how one more floor, or each floor being a couple of feet taller, ruins the area?

John Goshco
John Goshco
2 months ago

It’s the “view”.

As you come across the Shave Bridge, and look northward, you see the two mills and the Fernandina water tower. As you look southward, you see the airport and Carlton Dunes. The rest is mostly trees.

The 35 foot limitation is intended to keep future structures at, or below, the approximate tree line. It is not a limitation on how many units can be built. It is an attempt to maintain the semi-rural “atmosphere” of Amelia Islaand.

Perry Anthony
2 months ago

It’s still April, so you must be JOKING.

Walter Whitlow
Walter Whitlow
2 months ago

Just another heat island.

Alan Frampton
Alan Frampton
2 months ago

I think the homeowner of Amelia island should have a say in this. It does effect traffic an tax increases. The island cannot handle the traffic. I’m against this build

John Goshco
John Goshco
2 months ago

In addition to the height restrictions imposed by this legislation, the developers will have to contend with the newly enacted tree ordinance. I hope that the County doesn’t cut them any slack, like the City does on a regular basis.

Teri D. Springer
2 months ago

Zoning ordinances are there for a reason and there is no obligation for the country to alter them just to please a developer. In fact, I would say the fact that the developer doesn’t want to work within the LTP and zoning ordinances is a good argument against allowing them in. They WON’T be good neighbors and would be unlikely to follow ANY rules they didn’t find convenient.

Chris Venable
Chris Venable
2 months ago

I have lived on the Ocean at Amelia island for 3 years Just in that length of time I have observed more blatant attempts to destroy the charming and inique character of this wonderful place for the motive of pure corporate greed. Im not against making money and profit is not a bad word but there is a line that must not be crossed known as the greater good. These corporate fatcats are perfectly willing to turn Amelia Island into a sewer like Mytrle Beach for a few bucks. i get physically ill just reading this garbage. how do they sleep at night? Any rational adult with a conscience would know rhat this plan is just wrong. Once this is done and the building begins you cant put the genie back in the bottle. this must be stopped NOW !!

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