By Mike Lednovich
Three decisions by the City Commission Tuesday night could clear the path for more housing units in the city in what one commissioner termed “death by a thousand cuts.”
The most overarching decision came when Vice Mayor David Sturges, a home builder and contractor, proposed rewriting language in the city’s Land Development Code (LCD) and Comprehensive Plan regarding net density that caps how many units can be built on a parcel.
Sturges pointed to a lot on the corner of Fifth and Tarpon and said the current net density language limited the property owner’s options on what could be built on the land.
“Because of the net density rule, in one corner of their lot because of this floodplain rule they can’t build a duplex there they have to build one residence,” Sturges said. “There’s minimum lots in our city that this (proposed change) affects.”
Sturges wants to remove the language of net density and floodplain from the definitions in the LCD and Comp Plan regarding the determination of the number of units allowed on a property.
Commissioner James Antun asked Planning and Conservation Director Kelly Gibson how many lots in the city would be impacted by changing the net density definition.
“At this point in time it’s just over 200 lots. But I would like to refine that, there are other environmental conditions and other constraints on a particular piece that would remove it from being able to really maximize the available density calculation if that term floodplain were removed from the net density definition,” Gibson said.
But Commissioner Chip Ross countered that what Sturges was advocating were changes that would result in more units being allowed to be constructed on properties.
“What these changes are meant to do are to maximise density — to put more units on our barrier island,” Ross said. “These changes are designed to pack as many people on a barrier island as possible, benefiting land speculators, developers and builders. They will cause a decrease in the quality of life of residents. This is death by a thousand cuts and death is death even by a thousand cuts.”
Ross recited a litany of negative impacts from changing the LDC and Comp Plan definitions from increases in congestion, automobiles, need for schools, profits for land speculators, increase in taxes, land prices and decreases the quality of life, tree canopy and wildlife habitat and the small town charm of Fernandina Beach.
Julie Ferreira with the Nassau County Sierra Club told commissioners: “Anyone who has spent time driving around can see that we’re losing the face of our community, if we continue to allow without any guidance what’s going on in our neighborhoods. It’s destroying the quality of uniqueness. Everytime we talk about density, we should talk about unique needs. We have an historic culture, we have very specific neighborhoods, each with its own identity.”
Ferreira said the commission needs to consider “out of the box thinking. The character of our communities will be obliterated (if we don’t do this). I don’t think anybody who lives here wants that to happen,” she said.
Despite Ross’ objections, Mayor Bradley Bean ruled the commission had consensus to instruct city staff to rewrite the LDC and Comp Plan language for review by the Planning Advisory Board and ultimately the city commission.
Two other favorable commission votes, on annexation of properties located in the county to connect to the city’s water system, could also impact density in Fernandina Beach.
While the properties can now hook to the city system, construction regulations will remain under the county jurisdiction which is less stringent than city codes.
The first lot at 5 Berkley Court was requesting only a hookup to the city water system.
Ross voiced concern about the county’s lax regulations on tree removal and protection.
“The county rules for clearing this lot and the city rules are totally different. I will not support this. I’ll support (any property) willing to come into the city under city jurisdiction,” Ross said.
That motion passed 3-2 with Ross and Antun opposing.
The second property of one acre at 2633 Amelia Road was seeking water and stormwater hookups.
“They can subdivide the lot and they will (again) be under county jurisdiction,” Ross pointed out. “So this will increase density and I will not support this.”
There was no other commission comment, and the property was approved 4-1.