Is the Island Maxed Out? Commission’s All Over the Place

By Mike Lednovich

The late Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda once said, “Opinions are like noses, everybody has one.”

There were fine examples of Lasorda’s observation at the Fernandina Beach City Commission workshop Tuesday in which reducing the density allowances in the Land Development Code (LDC) was discussed.

Commissioner Chip Ross, who placed the density issue on the agenda, proposed reducing the LDC ordinance to 10 units per acre.

For nearly 35 minutes, city commissioners could not reach agreement on whether the downtown density of 34 units per acre, which was adopted in 2016, is a problem. They also couldn’t agree whether overall density was even an issue in the city.

What they did agree on was to discuss density again after city staff provides them with relevant data.

Florida’s Live Local Act was discussed extensively. The Live Local Act was designed to increase affordable housing development, but the act also includes a provision that modifies the approval process for new housing developments by requiring local governments to relinquish control of several zoning and land-use regulations.

For example, under Live Local a developer could build a 130-unit apartment complex on six acres of land recently annexed into the city despite city restrictions that would allow only a complex one-fourth that size.

Ross and Vice Mayor David Sturges once again engaged in verbal jousting that produced the same past arguments during votes on annexations and rezoning of property.

Ross echoed his macro view of the state of Amelia Island.

“I didn’t propose this as a fix to Live Local,” Ross said. “I proposed this because you can’t stuff any more people on this island. Everybody talks about quality of life on the island. They don’t want any more congestion. They want to keep the quaintness. Those things are attacked by high density. High density is great in a city. This is not a city, it’s a rural community or was a rural community because it’s not any more. It’s an island and the real issue is what is the carrying capacity of this island.”

Sturges relied on his repeated counter argument and view that density on the island is not a problem.

“He (Ross) says there’s more people on this island. I don’t think he’s done a study to prove that,” Sturges said. “However that bridge (Shave Bridge) opens up every day and those 1.6 million tourists come over it every year. Do the math. The density that you see, and I’ve said this almost every meeting we talk about development, is not from the residents who live on this island. It’s from people who come here every day and leave here every day.”

Most of the commissioners focused on Live Local and whether changing the LDC density definition would successfully blunt its impact.

“For me the issue is why it is so vastly different?” Commissioner Darron Ayscue said in reference to Nassau County’s density allowances. “Do we want a more homogenized island where the density is more spread out, does it all look the same? … I look at this as a joint effort with the county. Where are they and where do we need to be. I don’t know where that max density (for the island) is. I think it’s going to take a lot of work from our planning department and a pretty big undertaking to get there.”

Ayscue also said he believed there were “good” projects with Live Local. “I think there are Live Local projects that are good and can be realized,” he said. “Do they need this max density? I don’t know. I’m worried about those impacts to projects that are out there that I would like to see or know if they’re going to negatively impact a project that I think is a good project.”

To Ayscue’s point, commissioners asked Planning and Conservation Director Kelly Gibson to compile data on past and current projects and how density rules and other requirements impacted those developments.

Gibson said that generally density developments typically average eight units per acre in the city. Parking, landscaping, stormwater and other considerations typically result in developers downsizing their original plans.

“The sky is not falling. I just want to point that out,” said Mayor Bradley Bean. “I do have an issue with Live Local because of homogenization. If Live Local comes and says everybody can have the most density, it’s going to homogenize the city. What makes our city special is the differences of these neighborhoods.”

Bean added, “We didn’t create this law (Live Local). We’re just trying to make the best decision that’s good for Fernandina.”

He said he would like city staff to give commissioners something regarding density recommendations that is actionable.

“I know we have to do something on this,” Bean said.

 

16 Comments
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Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
5 months ago

Everybody seems stuck in unimaginative positions, particularly the Repub cartel on the commission. We need more housing on the island for workers who come here every day; there are appropriate places here to build higher density housing. We need free or very inexpensive public transportation and more bike lanes on the island to get cars off the road and allow residents (including workers) and tourists good access to workplaces, shopping, the beaches, while making it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. And we need to stop electing R’s to state and local offices so that our governments are not run by people whose primary interest is to use government to make more money for themselves.

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

I was with you until your last sentence:

Congressional Democrats’ stock returns beat the S&P 500 by seven points in 2023, a report by Unusual Whales found Tuesday, raising concerns that many members of Congress trade stocks based on information unavailable to the public.
Beating the S&P is very difficult for stock traders due to the challenge of regularly identifying stocks that will gain more than the S&P:

  • Democrats are up seven points (31 percent up), Unusual Whales showed.
  • Republicans did not beat the S&P, falling short by 6 points (18 percent up).
Hunter Walker
Trusted Member
Hunter Walker(@hwalker00)
5 months ago
Reply to  Ben Martin

Exactly, unlike Mark Tomes blaming all of the corruption on “Repubs” and “R’s”, there is just as much corruption by the “Dems” and “D’s”.

Ben Martin
Noble Member
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
5 months ago
Reply to  Hunter Walker

Huey Long (an assassinated presidential candidate) on congressional corruption.

https://youtu.be/dIQG7QQ-wZM

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

For a person who champions “inclusivity”, you sure do paint with a negative VERY broad brush…….it really does deter from the rest of your message.

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
5 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

And you have the missing un-unimaginative position–how arrogant….

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
5 months ago

Fernandina was never intended to be a “rural community”.
The plan was to create a large city–basically become what Jacksonville now is.

Further, Dr. Ross’s “density/quality of life” problem is really caused by non-residents,
who come onto the island to work (check the daily morning and evening back-ups on SR200),
and in summer who come for the beaches–we are a resort after all.

I don’t like the traffic either, but it is a small price to pay to live in paradise.
Fixing what does not need to be fixed wastes everyones time.

Being overwhelmed by low rent apartments is not going to happen–growth off-island
is the economic driver–land, taxes, services are cheaper there–not Fernandina or the south end.

The island is becoming gentrified and expensive–look at the stats of people buying here–not many working class–median price for a house is above $500K–one of the reasons the approved City Manager salary was so exhorbitant.

The actual impact of Live Local is unknown, but economics says it will not be disruptive.

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

Here we go again.

This isn’t hard.

Make a decision.

If you want to be NIMBY be NIMBY.

If you want to build a city do that.

You can’t have it both ways.

I absolutely am not in favor of changing the ordinances in order to increase density. I’m also not in favor of preventing property owners from developing their property how they see fit as long as it is allowable by the local laws.

Affordable housing, “free” public transportation. Let’s be real for just a moment.

Both of these are paid for by you and me. (I’m assuming you own property and pay taxes in the city)

Just know that all public housing also knows as affordable housing drives down the real estate value that would otherwise be.

There’s a reason why wildlife is building a mini City that will have at its capacity 40,000 residents. It’s 20 minutes from downtown FB. But with future congestion might make it 30. LOL

That really should be an economic study done. Would help to have economist involved. No I’m not advocating for myself they’re much smarter people on the island than me. But don’t just do this without having all the information. There is a carrying capacity of this island what that is I don’t think it’s been determined yet. I don’t know how close or far away we are from it but without the information it’s just a guess.

We’re so lucky and blessed to live on the island and in Fernandina beach. Hopefully all the reasons why it is so special continue on.

richie
Trusted Member
richie(@richie)
5 months ago

I understand the higher density’s benefit to builders and landlords. I see no benefit to ordinary citizens. Let’s not pack more people and cars onto our island and city.

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
5 months ago

It seems a bit unbalanced–biased?–that the majority of political comment published here is from the reporter who covers city politics….only one viewpoint (and Commissioner Ross sometimes) begs explanation….

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

Back when Mike took over the Observer, he put a call out soliciting contributors. Maybe Mike L. is the only one who took Mike up on the offer (and also Chip Ross less frequently). I don’t know for sure.

Mike Lednovich
Trusted Member
Mike Lednovich(@mike-lednovich)
5 months ago
Reply to  MyFernandina

There is no political comment in the article. All aspects are of city commissioner comments/positions during the discussion of density and the Live Local Act. You are welcome to write a differing viewpoint on density at any time and voice your support any of the commissioners’ position on this matter.

Lois
Lois(@lois)
5 months ago

This has no bearing on this conversation, but it is interesting.

Amelia Island is just over 18 square miles in size, similar to Manhattan. It measures 13 miles long and 2 miles wide, making it the same size and shape as Manhattan

Amelia Island has a population of approximately 38,189 people.In contrast, Manhattan has a population of over 1,600,000.

lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
5 months ago

Our STATE legislature failed us with the passage of laws to favor developers and insurance companies. DeSantis did well during the pandemic but his head exploded when he saw the $$ those two groups were going to be able to give him for his POTUS run. So, he made certain to SELL our state to them in return. We the people are now paying the price for that nonsense via higher insurance premiums and the loss of citizens’ property rights. Last year, we LOST more than we gained thanks to them. The GREED of people will be the downfall of our country. The mention of the article showing how many members of Congress who outperformed the S&P proves it. BOTH sides of the aisle are complicit. It isn’t a “R” or a “D” problem it is a GREED problem. They ALL have it—power, money…it’s disgusting. They have forgotten WHO they serve. They craft laws that suit THEM, not US. God doesn’t like ugly.

Bill Fold
Noble Member
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
5 months ago
Reply to  lucyp74

Lucy that’s the best comment yet, and I concur. If ya want to really screw things up take Mark Tomes advice. Misguided people like him are the same kind that are running away from cities north of here because of stupid decisions they were responsible for where they came from. It’s the definition of insanity and it’s now on our doorstep.