City Opens Up Path to Bigger Shopping Centers

By Mike Lednovich

By votes of 4-1, the Fernandina Beach City Commission Tuesday paved the way for the construction of future unlimited-sized commercial projects and unlimited expansion plans for existing shopping centers by removing all size restrictions previously in place.

The commission approved changes to both the city comprehensive plan and land development code regarding large commercial shopping centers.

A city’s staff report says, “The city’s commercial shopping centers need to upgrade and redevelop to attract new anchor tenants. Established standards limiting large-scale commercial development coupled with not allowing for expansion of a nonconforming structure and requirements for pervious parking materials actively thwart the ability to make reasonable reinvestment into existing structures or to demolish and rebuild in the same place.

“As a result, these properties are obligated to demonstrate a hardship to obtain a variance. Variances are completely at risk, and it is extremely difficult for staff or the BOA (Board of Adjustment) to recommend approval even when site- or use-specific special conditions prevent full compliance with the LDC.”

Regarding the comprehensive plan, the staff report said, “The proposed solution serves to create a more consistent approach with comprehensive plan policies that seek to allow for adaptive reuse of existing structures and sustainable building technique.”

Commissioner Chip Ross was the lone vote in opposition to the revisions.

“I think by adopting this you’re doing two things,” he said. “Number one, you’re eliminating an absolute maximized-sized building. If you want bigger buildings in the city, knock your socks off,” he said. “You’re also increasing the costs of doing these projects (with these changes) a great deal.”

Vice Mayor David Sturges, a home builder, said he liked the way the two ordinances were written. “I think it’s fine, the standard is fine. We have parameters that are in the land development code that cover the fine details,” he said.

At its May meeting, Kelly Gibson, director of the city’s planning and conservation department, told commissioners, “This does place a limit on a similar use tenant or owner so you don’t have the Super Walmart scenario, where you have one large big box retailer. It would not, however, prevent multiple retailers from locating within a unified complex.”

The approved land development code changes will allow the following:

  • Add new definitions to provide clarification for certain development types,
  • Striking the 80,000 square foot limitation for large-scale commercial development and adding a limitation for 55,000 square feet for a single-use tenant or owner which addresses the 1999 community concern of Super Walmart locating in the city,
  • Adding a policy to allow for up to 15% expansion of a single business tenant existing non-conforming commercial structure,
  • Requiring at least twenty (20) percent of areas dedicated to parking and drive aisles must incorporate alternate paving materials such as: decorative pavers, bricks, scored concrete, or paving patterns to recognize the desire to ensure community character through design.
  • Establishing a separate standard for reuse or redevelopment of existing loading docks to recognize that the residential development occurred after the original commercial shopping center,
  • Removing the requirement for “Special Privilege” as the request itself is inherently allowing for a special right for that specific property, and
  • Allowing variance approvals with a supermajority of criteria being achieved (4 out of 5).”What this does is answer the call for some members in our community who want to invest in Fernandina Beach. Some of our grocery stores, some of our large tenants,” said Mayor Bradley Bean. “Think about Publix, they’re ready to make their parking lot a lot nicer. We’re creating a path forward and taking away the restrictions. Our code is very restrictive. Our code has been written so that it stops these shopping centers from reinvesting in themselves.”

Ross again pushed back on the changes.

“What this is doing is you can have unlimited size development with unlimited amount of parking,” he said. “People say there is no more land left to develop but that’s not true. If you look at the (Amelia Island) Parkway there are several parcels that are zoned commercial that could put in really big shopping centers.”

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angeldoccie2003@yahoo.com
Noble Member
[email protected](@angeldoccie2003yahoo-com)
10 months ago

There are big box stores intended for the area of Yulee and beyond. My question is why can’t the citizens take advantage of that sizable commercial development. Yes I know no one wants to drive off island but then we pay the price for additional development here.

lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
10 months ago

Agree!! My question is why can’t our county bring in an INDUSTRY that will supply real jobs beyond retail?!?! We have the port for shipping, we have the land available for building, yet all we can seem to attract are HOMEBUILDERS. How about a commercial enterprise? I’ve asked the county commissioners about that and they claim they have such a place but until I SEE a HUGE announcement of a PRIVATE BUSINESS coming in (like the company coming to Ware County to build modular homes; that company currently builds modular hospital suites and other pre-fab structures), I won’t be convinced our government is doing what they truly can for our community.

lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
10 months ago

They won’t be content until every old growth tree is gone and replaced with an overpriced condo or ritzy retail store that the WORKING CLASS folks who have lived here forever cannot afford to shop in. It’s beyond sad to see what GREED will do to people.

TAK
Trusted Member
TAK(@tak)
10 months ago

We as a community already went down this path back in 1999. Super Walmart was supposed to be built on the island. The city commission & community fought back and won. I remember commissioners pulling a casket down the road signifying death to the island if Super Walmart came. This is ludicrous the current commission would do this. Shame on them.

sarahgant
Trusted Member
sarahgant(@sarahgant)
10 months ago

As William E. Vaughan once said, “Suburbia is where developers bulldoze out the trees, then name the streets after them.” The city is responding to what every visitor to Amelia Island says as they are leaving… If only there were outsized buildings, colossal housing developments, and mega retail shopping malls. Then this place would really have some charm to make me want to return.

Betsie Huben
Famed Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
10 months ago

Worst! Ideas! EVER!

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
10 months ago

These changes will still prevent “big box” retailers such as Super Walmart or Super Target from coming but now the permitting/approval process will be more fair and streamlined for small business by eliminating the need to obtain variances in many cases. We love small business on Amelia Island and nothing in these changes to the LDC will affect the quality of our island life or cause any more trees to be cut down. Well done City Commissioners!

Douglas M
Famed Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
10 months ago
Reply to  Jason Collins

I am confused after carefully reading the article. It doesn’t square with the inflammatory headline grabbing title. I’m not seeing the problem….

With all the shopping centers and stores on Sadler and 14th St, how does this make anything worse? Someone needs to draw me a picture.

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
10 months ago
Reply to  Douglas M

The headline is very misleading. But as to be expected from a former Commissioner now turning the “power of the pen” on the current Commission.

TAK
Trusted Member
TAK(@tak)
10 months ago
Reply to  Douglas M

Publix, Winn Dixie and former Food Lion (where Lott’s is) were built way, way before the threat of Super Walmart. Best Buy, a large box store, is an example of what could qualify under the 55,000 sq feet. The average Best Buy store size is 40,000 sq feet. My concern is that if a unique retailer comes to the island, one that does not have a location elsewhere in the county, it will lead to increased traffic issues and also increased crime. Crime growth tends to be a side effect of big box stores. The large box stores also do hurt small business owners. I personally would rather support The Book Loft than a Books A Million.

RichardCain
Noble Member
RichardCain(@richardcain)
10 months ago

I didn’t follow it either … the headline and the article not in sync.

Mike Lednovich
Trusted Member
Mike Lednovich(@mike-lednovich)
10 months ago

You are correct, the headline does not reflect what was done. They approved bigger shopping centers and the ability for existing shopping centers to expand. There are restrictions still in place on individual building size within those shopping centers. I’ve asked for the headline to be corrected — Mike Lednovich

lancej
Member
lancej(@lancej)
10 months ago
Reply to  Mike Lednovich

When did the variances change? I attended the council meeting this was not discussed at any point.

PattyM
Active Member
PattyM(@pattym)
10 months ago

“coupled with not allowing for expansion of a nonconforming structure and requirements for pervious parking materials actively thwart the ability to make reasonable reinvestment into existing structures or to demolish and rebuild in the same place.”

So we’re doing away with requiring “pervious parking materials”? (i.e. allowing water to pass through) Won’t that significantly contribute to flooding and/or excessive water runoff when it can’t percolate through the ground?

New approved code, “Requiring at least twenty (20) percent of areas dedicated to parking and drive aisles must incorporate alternate paving materials such as: decorative pavers, bricks, scored concrete, or paving patterns to recognize the desire to ensure community character through design.”

Are these alternate paving materials to be pervious, porous, or permeable? What you use makes a big difference in managing storm water runoff.

Last edited 10 months ago by PattyM
Mike Lednovich
Trusted Member
Mike Lednovich(@mike-lednovich)
10 months ago
Reply to  PattyM

Patty: it’s universally accepted that the pervious materials don’t work which is why the city changed the LDC regulations. But the 20% rule will also add at least 50% more to the costs of doing these projects.

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

Clarification: these surfaces don’t work in Fernandina Beach because the city does not require the three basic sub surface conditions required that make them work.

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

Do any of you idiots on the city council, including you Mayor Bean, realize that shopping centers and big box stores are going the way of the dinosaur because of online shopping like AMAZON? Also, people who live here couldn’t care less about more or bigger shopping centers. Most people who are tourists and visitors to Fernandina are not coming here to go shopping at Walmart or Target anyway. They’re coming here because they love the small town vibe and are trying to get away from commercialized development!!!
the wise thing to do to keep your jobs would be to do the job you were elected to do and stop trying to screw up what’s left of a once very beautiful place to live and visit!!

RichardCain
Noble Member
RichardCain(@richardcain)
10 months ago

Reading some of the comments I think a lot of people don’t fully understand what this change does and doesn’t do. The original misleading article headline didn’t help. A lot of people are jumping to conclusions that simply have no correlation with what was passed.

Last edited 10 months ago by RichardCain