City to contest legal fees in dropped eminent domain action

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 6, 2021

Recently, the City of Fernandina Beach dropped its attempt to acquire a 0.7-acre piece of vacant land zoned industrial along the Amelia River.  The City had attempted to work with the owners (The O’Steen Company, LLP, and Richard and Pamela Simmons) to agree on a purchase price.  This land was deemed essential to the construction of a waterfront park, since it was situated between two city-owned parcels of land.  When negotiations proved unsuccessful, the City began proceedings to acquire the land through a legal process called eminent domain.

Eminent domain is the power possessed by governments to take over the private property of a person without his/her consent. The eminent domain power is subjected to certain constitutional limits such as:

  • The property acquired must be taken for a “public use;”
  • The state must pay “just compensation” in exchange for the property;
  • No person must be deprived of his/her property without due process of law.

When property is taken under eminent domain, the measure of just compensation is the fair market value of the property to be ascertained as of the date of taking. It is determined by assessing a price a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree to. Fair market value is that value assigned by parties freely negotiating under normal market conditions based on all surrounding circumstances at the time of the taking.

During  negotiations a current appraisal was obtained from Diskin Property Research, a Tallahassee firm selected by the property owners, that valued the property at $2.3M.  Because the City believed this valuation to be “highly inflated,” the City in June withdrew its attempt to acquire the property.

The Nassau County Property Appraiser had provided a preliminary assessment for 2021 on the value of the property (00-00-31-1760-0001-0020) at $389,743 and provided a land value of $756,240.

But the story did not stopped there.  At the August 4, 2021 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) meeting, City Attorney Tammi Bach reported that the property owners were seeking legal fees of $70,000.  The FBCC directed Bach to contest the fees.

Bach also informed the FBCC that the Nassau County Property Appraiser has requested a copy of the Diskin appraisal of the O’Steen/Simmons property.

Share this story!