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.”