By Mike Phillips
It can be tough serving on the Fernandina Board of Adjustments. People are always coming around wanting perfectly reasonable exemptions from land use rules that were enacted for other perfectly reasonable reasons.
Wednesday’s meeting was a classic example.
Some of the nicest, most admirable people in town, Habitat for Humanity, want an exemption for a wretched property in an improving neighborhood. They want to put four single-family homes on a lot where traditionally one or two homes would fit the neighborhood’s sense of space.
Space is important in Fernandina. Room to breathe is part of the secret sauce that makes the community so special.
But what’s currently on that 100-foot by 100-foot lot right now where Habitat wants to build might not be — but certainly looks like – a crack house. And rumor has it that it has been in its shoddy life. A neighborhood that is on the way up doesn’t need a piece of junk like 1014 S.10th Street.
But here’s the flip side of this coin: If the city allows the good people of Habitat to cut that lot into four pieces and build four much-needed homes for low-income working people, what’s to stop other developers from pouring in saying “me too!” and replacing tidy little houses on roomy lots with expensive houses cheek-to-jowl and tossing out the Fernandina Beach secret sauce?
You could clearly see the moral tug-of-war as Board of Adjustments members picked at this difficult issue. A lot of interesting but illegal ideas were shot down by city attorney Tammi Bach, who patiently did her lawyerly job.
Barnes Moore from Habitat eloquently laid out the low-income housing need.
Just as eloquently, neighborhood advocate Taina Christner reminded the audience about the secret sauce of roominess that makes Fernandina Beach neighborhoods so special.
The first vote failed. Then board member Faith Ross, who had been tossing out one idea after another in a search for legal answers, tossed out two conditions that passed legal muster, made a motion to approve, and Habitat won its variance. The two conditions were that “low income” would be defined as between 30% and 80% of median Nassau County income, and site designs would be reviewed by the board. That vote passed unanimously.
Sometimes in a democracy there’s no one correct answer to an issue, and people just have to trust each other. Such was the Wednesday night debate. As the audience filed out, Barnes Moore and Taina Christner were having a friendly conversation.