Citizens Win Tringali Case

By Mike Lednovich

A circuit court judge has ruled there is “no plausible explanation for the City’s erroneous interpretation” of the Fernandina Beach Land Development Code (LDC) and said a proposed plan for eight townhouses on the Tringali property on South Third Street can only be considered by the Board of Adjustment.

Last June, neighbors of the Tringali property, surrounded by the Fernandina Beach Historic District, filed the petition for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court to quash a city commission vote that allowed a developer to build townhouses on the property.

The neighbors, Merry Coalson, David Coalson and Taina Christner submitted the petition and formed an advocacy group called Stop the Domino Effect.

Judge Eric Roberson said in his order “The result of the Commission’s vote is that eight parcels were combined into one lot and approved for building a multi-family structure. That action, per the Land Development Code, must be approved by the Board of Adjustment. Deference is not warranted where there is no plausible explanation for the City’s erroneous interpretation.”

The judge ordered that “The Petition for Writ of Certiorari is GRANTED. The vote of the City Commission is quashed and this matter is remanded for a vote by the Board of Adjustment.”

Christner hailed the ruling as a win for all citizens of Fernandina Beach.

“In my opinion, the city commission, city attorney, and director of planning and conservation used the full force of the city government to violate city law and to fight for developers against the citizens who stood up to their regretful choices. Citizens are demanding accountability as well as an apology for their wasting countless resources. This never would have happened if the city had followed its own laws from the start,” she said.

Last May, after a nearly four-hour quasi-judicial hearing on the matter, Mayor Bradley Bean, Vice Mayor David Sturges, and Commissioners Darron Ayscue and James Antun voted to approve the plat/replat application without citing examples of “competent substantial evidence” that it adhered to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and LDC.

City Attorney Tammi Bach maintained during that meeting that the application approval process being used in this case—seeking commission approval rather than approval from the Board of Adjustment (BOA), which is the governing body that decides on applications for variances—did not violate LDC 1.03.05 because the developer was not requesting to restore the property’s 20 underlying lots of record.

LDC 1.03.05 requires that where a single-family detached residential unit exists, it constitutes one building site and must be considered the lot of record and no construction permit can be issued for more than one residential dwelling. Currently, the property has been combined into five lots of record. It also states that a “change from the foregoing provisions for the purpose of establishing building sites, or separation of building sites requires supermajority approval by the Board of Adjustment …”

In today’s ruling, Roberson stated, “The Court, even with the benefit of Respondents’ briefing and responses to questions at the hearing on this Petition, cannot find any plausible interpretation of the ‘subdivision’ section of the Land Development Code that applies to the actions at issue.”

Commissioner Ayscue noted, “I respect Judge Roberson’s decision and am appreciative that the judicial system worked as intended. The proposed subdivision was intended to have 12 units as a maximum. However, with the recent passage of “Live Local” and as we have seen a great deal of concern from the citizens of Fernandina Beach recently, the 0.65 acreage zoned mixed use on the property is eligible for 22 units of density as a “back of the envelope” calculation. The potential to greatly increase density in this area must be acknowledged.”

During the May city commission meeting, attorney Harrison Poole maintained that LDC 4.04.00, which regulates subdivision or re-subdivision of land, “That’s what you have in this case. This is not restoring an underlying plat of lots, this is a new subdivision. So it is effectively destroying what the original lots were and replacing them,” he said.

But the court rejected that assertion ruling, “The section on subdivisions, by its plain terms, cannot apply. Subdivision means the ‘division of a thing into smaller parts.’ Black’s Law Dictionary (11th Ed. 2019). Here, there were eight separate parcels that were being combined into one building site in order to build a multi-family structure. Nothing was being divided into smaller parts. Even if this section could apply, it is commonly understood that more specific statutory requirements will control over general dictates. Here, the section regarding subdivisions – even if it was applicable – is a general scheme compared to the specific requirements of Section 1.03.05 that address the very situation in dispute.”

Judge Roberson also noted that while courts should be reluctant to intercede in government decisions, “When there is a plausible, albeit wrong, interpretation of local codes, the Court must give substantial deference to the government’s interpretation. That does not mean, though, that the Court is a mere “rubber stamp” for any governmental action.”

Ron Flick, CEO/Owner of the Compass Group, the developer of the project was not available for comment.

The Observer contacted Vice Mayor Sturges and City Commissioner Antun for comment but received no response. Mayor Bradley Bean refused to comment.

25 Comments
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lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
5 months ago

So, will this prevent the building of the townhomes? I hope so!!! But with all of the GARBAGE state legislation that has been passed as of late, there are no telling what sort of loopholes they have that they can pass through. It’s infuriating.

ggarner
Noble Member
ggarner(@ggarner)
5 months ago

Good.

jfindlay
Noble Member
jfindlay(@jfindlay)
5 months ago

Good decision! At a minimum, this is a temporary reprieve against overdevelopment. But the current city commission is relentless and will keep working to find ways to cram more houses on to every piece of land.

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
5 months ago

The role of the City Attorney is an interesting one…….is it to always give the best legal advice possible reading the codes and law, or is it to find a way to satisfy the majority of the Commissioners? It seems to be more of the latter (she can definitely count votes).

I’ve known attorney’s in prior political organizations who were more than willing to play the role of “human shield” for the majority of politicians they served to stay employed. I would hope that is not the case here, but it’s looking more and more like that…..her advice recently has been interesting.

Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
5 months ago

Mayor Bradley Bean, Vice Mayor David Sturges, and Commissioners Darron Ayscue and James Antun, along with city attorney Tammi Bach are all crooks. The sooner they’re gotten rid of the better it will be for Fernandina Beach. You can take that to the bank.

richie
Trusted Member
richie(@richie)
5 months ago

Increased housing density has no benefit to us ordinary citizens. And don’t tell us it will help the tax base which will be depleted by the need for expanded services (unless we raise taxes). Those with vested interests in more housing should recuse themselves from related decisions. Or better still, we should find a way to get ordinary citizens.into leadership positions.

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
5 months ago
Reply to  richie

Those “vested interests” may become more visible Monday when the new Financial Disclosure Form 6 is due by all elected officials in Florida…..rooting out those kind of issues was the impetus for the law.

I’m sure some smart people will be all over those documents…..some City officials in South Florida have already indicated they will resign rather disclose as much as the state now requires!

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
5 months ago
Reply to  Douglas M

Actually, upon further research, the Form 6 is due July 1st. The law takes effect Monday.

richie
Trusted Member
richie(@richie)
5 months ago

Thank you, Fernandina Observer, for delivering this important news!

taina
Trusted Member
taina(@taina)
5 months ago

Commissioner Ayascue’s characterization of the potential density increase on the proposed subdivision fails to provide a complete picture. While the Live Local Act indeed allows for increased density in mixed-use zoning districts, – when 40% of the housing is affordable for 30 years – conveniently omitted from the discussion is the fact that a significant portion of the lot, specifically the 4th street side, is zoned R2 and not subject to Live Local provisions.
IMO, It’s disconcerting to observe a recurring pattern from the City Attorney and City Commission of leveraging the Live Local Act as a veiled threat to coerce approval for developments. Using the act in this manner creates a false sense of urgency. The Live Local Act was intended to promote affordable housing in specific zones, not as a bargaining chip for unrelated developments

dcayscue
Trusted Member
dcayscue(@dcayscue)
5 months ago
Reply to  taina

You are correct. The 4th street side is zoned R2 and only available to be developed as R2. However, the 3rd street side is zoned multi use and is 0.65 acres. This acreage does not include the 4th street zoning of R2. View corridors and any other codes are irrelevant to Live Local. The fact remains the 3rd street side can be developed with maximum density and could potentially double the original proposal. These are facts that the citizens should be made aware of. 22 units plus the existing 3 units in R2 has the potential to more than double the density in the area. From a development standpoint, considering Live Local and the area to being considered, the potential for increased density seems extremely likely.

taina
Trusted Member
taina(@taina)
5 months ago
Reply to  dcayscue

Yes and that’s the point of live local. If they want to create 40% affordable housing for 30 years on the 3rd street side today, that’s totally legal. If it makes financial sense to developers they will eventually do this all down 3rd and 9th. With your argument, you’re asking the community sacrifice an r2 neighborhood to have developers not develop a mu1 to full density, using the potential of live local as a threat. Have you considered that the City could approve the plan for the 12 townhomes, then the developer could choose to place 6 townhomes on the 4th street side, then place the 22 units on the 3rd street side, and there would be nothing the City could do to stop it. So my suggestion would be to quit using live local as a threat.

dcayscue
Trusted Member
dcayscue(@dcayscue)
5 months ago
Reply to  taina

I’m sorry but I am not threatening anything. I do not own the property nor do I have an interest in how or what it is developed as. I am merely educating the public. When the application was originally made, Live Local did not exist. It was barely known during the hearing. We did not have a full grasp on max density with the law. We did not know well enough that height restrictions no longer applied and was based on the tallest building within a mile. We did not understand the actual price range that “affordable housing” meant in accordance with the law, which in Nassau County could be significantly higher than most citizens realize. I believe this is a good law. I believe it has good applications, in some areas more than others. But that is only my opinion. I am simply trying to educate the public, specifically the residents that live in that area who see this property as being developed residential. It is a fact because of the zoning that density could double which was not the case in any potential development at the time of application.

taina
Trusted Member
taina(@taina)
5 months ago
Reply to  dcayscue

Commissioner Ayascue, it’s encouraging to see your newfound commitment to public education. However, it’s hard to forget your silence just a few weeks ago when another commissioner sought agreement to invite a private company, linked to the mayor, for a presentation on a proposed ethanol plant capable of producing 7.5 million gallons annually in our town, actually about 1/2 mile from my house.
Commissioners Ross and Antun were supportive of the presentation, and you remained silent while the mayor suggested treating the potential chemical processing facility the same as a new Mexican restaurant. Your current dedication to educating the public is commendable, but consistency in valuing public awareness across different matters is crucial. I look forward to your new dedication to public awareness in all matters involving the city.

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
5 months ago
Reply to  dcayscue

Yikes! Who would want a house on 4th if a multi-level townhome towered over your backyard from 3rd. As you know well, privacy has a lot of value…..

dman
Noble Member
dman(@dman)
5 months ago

does this mean the application is now heard by a different group – the board of adjustment, and may still be approved?

taina
Trusted Member
taina(@taina)
5 months ago
Reply to  dman

Great question Dave! Yes, but the procedure will follow the laws of the city and the project will need to pass the BOA rules for a variance. This should have happened from the start.

karen
Active Member
karen(@karen)
5 months ago
Reply to  dman

Yes, Dave. And didnt the BOA already tell you it does not meet the varience critria? That’s just the word on the street.

dman
Noble Member
dman(@dman)
5 months ago
Reply to  karen

I am not DAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hunter Walker
Trusted Member
Hunter Walker(@hwalker00)
5 months ago
Reply to  dman

Thanks for clarifying, David.

Robert Weintraub
Trusted Member
Robert Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
5 months ago

Expect the developer — Flick and Compass Group — to appeal. The appellate court is stocked with pro-developer judges. As with other cases against developers that the lower court ruled against the developer (see Crane Island) the appellate court will overturn this ruling. Also, this is another case where the city attorney is out of her depth.

ggarner
Noble Member
ggarner(@ggarner)
5 months ago

On what basis will the Florida District Court of Appeal overturn the ruling? Its job is to correct errors and remain consistent with the law. Whether the judges are pro development or not, their only role is to decide if the law was applied correctly. I see no wiggle room.

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
5 months ago

Of course this all becomes irrelevant when the proposed LDC clarifications are approved.

oldtimehockey
Noble Member
oldtimehockey(@oldtimehockey)
5 months ago

Who’s funding this lawsuit? I’d like to help.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
5 months ago

Now that the courts are intervening this will take a little longer. However if I had to guess the developer will win.

My personal opinion is the city needs to stop this shell game before it becomes an epidemic. Don’t know what needs to happen but whatever it is the council needs to take action before there’s nothing but apartment buildings all throughout Fernandina Beach.

On another note when the attorney for the developer threatened to put in adult stores if they weren’t allowed to rezone the property I would have stopoed them right there. We don’t appreciate being threatened. These people seem to have no intention of being good neighbors.

Last edited 5 months ago by Alan Hopkins