By Mike Lednovich
A parade of speakers voiced its concerns to the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) Wednesday about the city commission’s efforts to have changes made in the Land Development Code (LDC) and Comprehensive Plan that would open the door to increased housing.
The PAB has been tasked with rewriting two sections of the LDC and Comprehensive Plan. One revision would make it easier for current property owners to subdivide their parcels without having to obtain a variance. Another change would remove the word “floodplain” from the equation of how density is calculated and make those affected lots bigger in volume.
Vice Mayor David Sturges, a landowner, homebuilder and construction contractor, said at the commission’s Sept. 5 meeting that the LDC and Comprehensive Plan are not clear and need to be clarified. Mayor Bradley Bean and Commissioners Darron Ayscue and James Antun agreed, and they tasked the PAB with bringing the revised changes to the commission.
Commissioner Chip Ross opposed, saying the language was clear and this was a move by this commission to increase density in the city.
The PAB’s workshop meeting Wednesday launched its study of possible changes to the LDC and Comprehensive plan.
After a lengthy discussion among members about technical terms, citizens were invited to comment.
“The changes that are being discussed here are not by any stretch of definition clarification. Clarify means to make it less confusing,” said Margaret Davis. “This is actually making substantive changes to the LDC. It’s changing what can be done.”
Davis said consideration by the PAB to change the LDC to allow swimming pools, accessory dwellings and garages to be demolished on adjacent lots and in turn then permit the property owner to subdivide their property into two lots is wrong.
“This isn’t a clarification, it’s a true amendment,” she said, ” I’m very open to preserving our open space. The neighborhood character, the property values and the more we allow structures to be torn down and now you can easily subdivide it into two lots, I think we’re asking for a lot of trouble here on the island.”
PAB member Mark Bennett, who has served on the board for more than two decades, talked about how potential changes to the LDC and Comprehensive Plan could have a dramatic impact on city neighborhoods. “Small changes can lead to very big results,” he said.
“I could point out a parcel within walking distance of here that if we made these changes you could add three houses or four houses (to the property) and that would change the entire character of that corner,” Bennett said during discussion about possible revisions.
At issue is an LDC restriction on the ability of property owners to subdivide their parcels if a house is on one lot and a swimming pool or garage is on the adjacent lot. The two lots are considered a combined single lot.
A majority of the commission is seeking a change that would remove that definition of a single lot and the requirement for the property owner to get a variance from the city.
“Now they want to change it so you can take everything else away, the house remains and now you have the underlying lots of record. That increases density, that increases the change in the neighborhood character. All these things that people bought a house for, looked at it as a great neighborhood, and then that all goes away. I certainly wouldn’t be happy about that,” Bennett said.
Board member Nick Gillette, who works at Gillette & Associates, an engineering and management consulting company involved in numerous residential and commercial projects on Amelia Island, disagreed with Bennett’s assessment.
Gillette argued that most accessory structures are in the rear of properties.
“Most of these things are in the back. Most pools, most accessory dwelling units, whatever the accessory unit would be are in the back of the yard and not visible from the street. So if a homeowner wants to get rid of an accessory use and they don’t have a function for it and they have a lot in the back, why would we prohibit that? I’m in favor of it,” Gillette said. “I don’t think it changes the view corridors, at least the ones I’ve done.”
Taina Christner, a downtown resident, did a projection of the increase in housing if the revisions were approved by the commission.
“I went down third and fourth streets from Ash to Gum. There are 33 houses . If all the underlying lots were released that would mean 213 lots which is a 650% increase in density,” she said. “I think it’s very unwise to mess with this. I think the reason the commission is doing this is because they want the density increased. And this is an easy way to get around the Land Development Code because you don’t have to change zoning, you don’t have to change density, you don’t have to do anything. You just have to say underlying lots of record.”
Joyce Tuten was another resident who reviewed the property records of her neighborhood.
“There are 14 houses, if this revision is passed they could be knocked down and become 28 houses,” she said. “I am very much opposed to these amendments.”
Tuten cited a section of the LDC that states a protection clause to maintain open space, visual corridors, neighborhood character, property values and visual attractiveness of residential areas.
“Knocking down structures and then jamming two or four or six homes (in there) is not doing what the Land Development Code says. The LDC becomes a bit of a lie,” she said.
There were no citizen speakers in favor of the proposed changes during the three hour PAB meeting. The board agreed to take the necessary time to review all aspects of any changes to the LDC and Comprehensive Plan.