Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 4, 2018 1:57 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) passed two ordinances on Third and Final Reading during their April 3, 2018 Regular Meeting:
- Ordinance 2018-01, dealing with variances, and
- Ordinance 2018-03, allowing overnight parking of RVs and trailers in specified public areas when approved by the Events Committee.
Both ordinances passed on 5-0 votes. However, opponents to moving requests for variances to combine commercial lots in the beach Job Opportunity Areas and prohibiting property owners from even requesting variances to fill wetlands continued to speak out, as they had at the first two readings.
Ordinance 2018-01 – Variances
Despite opposition from both city planning staff and the Planning Advisory Board (PAB), the FBCC decided to take on the responsibility of hearing variance applications for combination of commercial lots in the beachfront Job Opportunity Areas along S. Fletcher Avenue. Lynn Williams, a member of the Board of Adjustments (BOA) that currently hears all variance requests except for those in the local Historic Districts, continued to voice his opposition to this change, citing fears that politics of individual commissioners could influence the FBCC’s decisions on variance cases. He also objected to the elimination of variance requests for filling of wetlands, which commissioners had added to the ordinance during First Reading in February.
Joining Williams in opposition to the change which would prohibit property owners from even requesting a variance to fill wetlands was John Hartrich, who owns property on Sunrise Drive. Hartrich explained that with the change, he would be prohibited from building a bulkhead to stop erosion from Egans Creek, actions that property owners on either side of his property had taken.
Commissioners were unmoved by arguments. Commissioner Chip Ross reminded the speakers that the city’s Comprehensive Plan prohibits filling wetlands, so the ordinance just brings the code into compliance with the Comprehensive Plan.
Another change reflected in the ordinance relates to building heights. It adds an absolute prohibition to requesting a variance to exceed allowable building heights. Williams suggested that since the BOA has never been confronted with a request to exceed building height in a variance request, the city would be better served by amending the existing code to clarify that the existing height limits are to include mechanical structures such as elevator shafts and air handling units. While commissioners seemed to agree that the code could be changed to reflect that, they declined to remove the prohibition against variance requests to exceed height limits from the ordinance.
Ordinance 2018-03 – Overnight Parking
The Events Committee and the City Manager’s Office asked that the City Commission amend Chapter 78 of the City Code to allow parking of recreational vehicles as approved by the Events Committee and with a Special Events Permit. This Ordinance would limit the locations to City owned properties, i.e. parking lots, Central Park, Main Beach Park.
The fee for overnight parking is $25 per vehicle and is included in the amended Fee Schedule (approved at March 20, 2018 Regular Commission Meeting).
City Attorney Tammi Bach stressed that such activity must be approved as part of a city-sponsored event and is limited to public properties only.
No one from the audience spoke to this item.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.