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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
2 years ago

While the $2.3 million valuation seems highly inflated, the site of the Boat House restaurant at the corner of Ash and S. 2nd Street, a non-waterfront property that is on a parcel one-third the size of the Simmons parcel sold for $1.1 million in 2018. Good that Mr. Hickox is considering a revaluation of these waterfront properties to set a valuation reflecting the current market. Maybe when the property owners that have neglected their properties and allowed them to become an eyesore get an increased tax bill they will be motivated to develop or sell their properties.

LuAnn Dawson
LuAnn Dawson (@guest_61985)
2 years ago

The city brought the proceedings against the property owners and then withdrew. They should pay the legal costs. This has nothing to do with valuation of property.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_61987)
2 years ago
Reply to  LuAnn Dawson

It has everything to do with “valuation”.

Gary Martin
Gary Martin (@guest_61989)
2 years ago

The fact that the City of Fernandina Beach was willing and attempted to forcibly take private property from a legal owner says everything I need to know about the morality of those with authority in local government. The City forced the property owners to defend themselves in court, then, when the City found themselves facing facts they didn’t agree with, dropped the case, leaving the property owners holding the bag.

In my opinion, the City is obligated to pay the legal fees of the property owners. Imminent domain is theft and that makes the City of Fernandina Beach thieves.