Commentary: Townhouses in a Neighborhood That Cherishes Its History – and the Law

By Julie Ferreira

The Fernandina Beach City Commission is poised to make a significant decision that could impact neighborhoods and residents across the city.

The Land Development Code (or LDC) basically deals with how you can use and develop land in the city. It provides codified guidance on what can be built, where it can be built, and how much can (or cannot) be built. It covers zoning, development options, natural resources, densities, setbacks, etc., all the while assuring compliance with state and federal regulations.

When done well, codes make it easier for a community to implement its vision. The City of Fernandina Beach has such a code in LDC 1.03.05 that was designed and added to the Land Development Code to maintain and support neighborhood integrity and quality.

However, it hasn’t been used in at least 16 years.

Written and added to the LDC in the 90s, 1.03.05 speaks to maintaining open space and visual corridors, neighborhood character, the visual attractiveness of residential areas, and maintaining property values.

1.03.05 also clarifies that when a single family home or duplex or auxiliary building has existed on one or more platted lots it becomes the “lot of record,” and no permit will be issued for more than one residential dwelling on the site. If there was a demolition, whether voluntary or involuntary, the “lot of record” does not change.

Translated, that means that the big lots on Atlantic Boulevard are protected, and we will not be seeing houses on large lots torn down to be replaced by townhomes and higher densities. 1.03.05 should also provide against unsuitable redevelopment if a hurricane were to cause substantial damage to a residential area of the city. If interpreted properly, 1.03.05 would give owners the right to rebuild and replace homes on their property but it would also protect neighborhoods against developers being given the opportunity to purchase parcels with the intent of raising densities and forever changing the face of individual neighborhoods and community.

When done well, codes make it easier for a community to implement its vision. However, when they are not enforced, when they are arbitrarily applied or if they do not line up with a community’s vision, codes can actually keep communities from having the protections they need and want to be able to protect their lifestyles.

A current question is, has our Planning Department ignored or circumvented our codes to placate developers, or because of personal philosophies? The city attorney has said no. On the other hand, she says that the city has not applied 1.03.05 for more than 16 years and that requests for changing the number of plats on a property, in her opinion, do not fall under the jurisdiction of code 1.03.05.

Since neighborhood character is at the heart of neighborhood quality, most residents of a neighborhood would probably agree that new housing should be designed in sympathy with the older homes and existing structures to create overall harmony. Allowing townhomes to be built interspersed amongst older, existing properties in established neighborhoods could be considered healthy growth, or it could be considered sticking out like a sore thumb – depending on which side of the fence you sit.

And that issue is what is coming to the commission table Feb. 7.

The Planning Advisory Board (PAB) at its Dec. 14 meeting heard a request to consider replatting what’s called the Tringali property on South Fourth Street near Beech. That board’s decision was to deny the request and recommended that the application be forwarded to the Board of Adjustments (BOA) as required by 1.03.05.

The request came from Ron Flick, owner of Compass Group builders – which is known for much bigger and more complex projects than this one. He wants to put in 12 townhomes on property that now is home to 5 houses.

This stretch of houses on South Fourth Street is not in the Historic District, but it is surrounded by the district. At the time the district was formed, the well-known and respected Tringali family asked that their five structures not be included. Today, four of them are quite modest and faded for lack of paint – but equally modest but lovingly painted cottages are sprinkled throughout the district.

It’s not hard to imagine that townhomes across the street from Victorian homes would undermine the value of the homes they face – not to mention undermining the visual appeal of homes of one of Fernandina Beaches great assets: its historic district.

The drafters of 1.03.05 knew that the language might cause disagreements. They provided avenues for the applicant to seek a variance as authorized by the Land Development Code. The role of the Board of Adjustment is to decide on applications by landowners to permit building or land uses that vary from regulations within the Land Development Code.

Hopefully, the Feb. 7 City Commission meeting will follow the rules and send this issue to the Board of Adjustment, where it can skillfully and objectively be evaluated by the clear requirements of the existing code — for the sake of this neighborhood and every other neighborhood in the city.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Kim (@guest_66894)
8 months ago

Nassau county has been destroyed by all the homes town homes and buildings taking away the beauty of the wild life and the woods of beautiful trees. That’s why people wanted to live here cause loved the small town community that people cared for their neighbors. The people should have been able to vote if we wanted the structures of all the madness of killing the country setting we use to have.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
8 months ago
Reply to  Kim

COMPLETELY AGREE!! The decimation of the TREES in our area is happening at an alarming rate and is NOT slowing. I drive down A1A and feel for those poor people who have lived around that dump Wildlight their whole lives and now the trees are being ripped up from around them. For DECADES it was timber property, and suddenly it comes RESIDENTIAL?! I’m utterly disgusted that not a SINGLE piece of that trash heap has a SINGLE affordable living space on it. Not an apartment, not a home, NOTHING. Yet,OUR TAX $$ has to pay for the stinking nature trails and other nonsense in that trash heap due to some sweetheart ENCPA deal?? It’s shameful and disgusting how much money has passed between palms. The GREED around here is shameful. I hope to see karma bite them on the backsides.

Robin Wells
Robin Wells(@rocknrobin12gmail-com)
8 months ago
Reply to  Kim

That’s why we moved here along with other reasons

Jake Gifford
Jake Gifford (@guest_67513)
6 months ago
Reply to  Robin Wells

Did you buy a new construction home, or was your home constructed more than 20 years ago? If you bought new construction, then you’re part of the problem.

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_66898)
8 months ago

The key issue is the failure of the City Staff to follow the requirements of LDC 1.03.05 which states “wherever there exists a single family. Detached residential unit or a duplex structure or any auxiliary building, etc it becomes the “Site of Record”. No permit will be issued for more than one residential unit on this site. It further states that demolition or removal of any residence structure does not have the effect of changing the established the building site. To change the foregoing building site, or separation of the building site/s (i.e. replating as requested in the Tringali Application) requires a super majority of the Board of Adjustments in accordance with LDC 1.03.05 and LDC 10.02.00.

The Planning Advisory Board (Local Planning Agency) understood the above and denied the Trigali Application and recmmended forwarding to the BOA as required by the Land Development Code’.

Hopefully the Commission will follow the recommendation of the PAB and the Code on 7 February 2023.

Peg (@guest_66900)
8 months ago
Reply to  Len Kreger

Len, Which part of city staff is responsible for these failures. Have there been other instances where the city staff has failed? Where does the buck stop? The taxpayers deserve the facts and answers.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman(@crew2120)
8 months ago
Reply to  Peg

I believe it would/should fall on the shoulders of the Deputy Director of the Planning department. She has the final say in what the department does.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman(@crew2120)
8 months ago
Reply to  Len Kreger

Why is it that the Deputy Director of the Planning department has not been called to task on why some applicants are allowed to do things one way while others are not? Everyone should have to adhere to the rules on an equal basis. If I am understanding this correctly, because the rule has not been followed for years, it doesn’t need to be followed? This is insanity at its finest and needs to be addressed. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes that the public who do not get involved, is not aware of. It is time for change, time to demand answers and time to do the right thing which is follow the LCD as that’s what it was established for!

Skeeter Askey
Skeeter Askey (@guest_66906)
8 months ago

Enforce the code as it was written and intended!

Richard Timm
Richard Timm(@rtimm-ontheislandgmail-com)
8 months ago

Very well written. Thank you. I can’t imagine why the City would not follow its own rules.

Bob Tankel
Bob Tankel(@bob-tankel)
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Timm

Truly? When bought a home here in 2001, I wondered why the island didn’t incorporate so it could adopt some Sanibel inspired policies. A friend said that would never happen because we don’t trust the city to do the right thing. Plus ca change….

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66910)
8 months ago

Is LDC 1.03.05 unenforceable because the authority it envokes resides elsewhere?
This is the real question–so a legal analysis seems in order.
Practice has been to allow replatting, as a legal matter this alone may establish that 1.03.05 is unenforceable.
The correct next step is to obtain a determination from the State Atty General or other competent authority.

DAVE LOTT(@dave-l)
8 months ago

This is a critical issue for the future of the city. Unfortunately, the City Planning department for decades has been operating under the mantra of higher density is better. Why this policy has been adopted is unclear to me. I understand why developers want increased density as it allows them to make more money to recover their higher land cost, but enough is enough.

Bob Tankel
Bob Tankel(@bob-tankel)
8 months ago

We have seen this over and over. In Tampa developers would buy 3 lots and build5 townhomes. In Dunedin the city commission struggles with older homes being torn down and replaced with behemoth monstrosities. Coming soon to our neighborhood.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_67015)
8 months ago

Concur with Dave Lott.