FBCC approves program, trust fund for land conservation on First Reading

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 22, 2018 9:00 p.m.

Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) have responded to citizen calls for measures to preserve undeveloped and environmentally sensitive land by unanimously passing Ordinance 2018-13 on First Reading at their May 15, 2018 Regular Meeting.

This Ordinance amends Chapter 42 of the City’s Code of Ordinances by establishing a comprehensive land conservation and preservation program including a land conservation trust fund. The FBCC established land conservation as a primary goal for the next twelve months, and this Ordinance appears to be the first step in achieving this goal.

The land conservation trust fund will hold appropriated, grant or donated revenue for the purpose of purchasing lands from willing sellers that will remain as conservation land, meaning that they cannot be developed.

The Ordinance calls for the development of two specific lists:

(1) The target protection areas listto consist of lands representing the highest natural resource values (such as natural resource protection areas), but generally not specific parcels, initially approved by the FBCC who will periodically update it in accordance with program goals, procedures and criteria.

(2) The active acquisition list, to consist of criteria-qualified sites that have been selected from target protection areas, as well as qualified acquisition proposals submitted by the public, all of which have received positive responses from the property owners. The active acquisition list shall be updated periodically according to program procedures and criteria. Site acquisition proposals that receive the highest evaluations pursuant to the program criteria and for which acquisition is feasible will be placed on this list, pending approval by the commission.

It appears that the first money to be included in the fund is the $115K contribution from the developers of Amelia Bluff.  A portion of Parks and Recreation Impact Fees may also be included.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger

Vice Mayor Len Kreger voiced strong support for the Ordinance.  He informed commissioners that 24 percent of city land is currently designated recreation (primarily open space) and 17 percent currently designated conservation.  He added that 19 percent of the city’s land has been designated industrial, which in many cases, he said, is open space land.  Kreger said that this puts the city in an excellent position regarding land conservation, since many experts claim that 32 percent open space is the tripping point for action.  “There is not a lot of land left to buy,” Kreger said, “but we need to buy it.

Commissioner Chip Ross proposed several changes, which will be incorporated for consideration during Second Reading of the Ordinance scheduled for June 19, 2018.

City Attorney Tammi Bach said that she had a couple of items that she wanted to run past the Amelia Tree Conservancy in the meantime.  She invited commissioners and the public to send any additional input to her for consideration.

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Chris and Carol Whelan
5 years ago

It’s great to hear that this ordinance was passed unanimously on its first reading. Who doesn’t want important land on Amelia Island protected from urban and commercial sprawl. Hats off to the FBCC and all who took the time to propose and then follow through with it. It’s an important step in the right direction.

The problem is that Amelia Island is a big place and the City only governs a small portion of it and without the support and cooperation of Nassau County this will be a meaningless step towards protecting the diverse habitats that make this island unique along Florida’s east coast.

An example that’s happening with alarming frequency is the recent wholesale destruction of the tree canopy along Sadler Road for yet another hotel. The county approved a change in zoning (again) from residential (R1 and R2) to commercial general along the south side of Sadler Road adjacent to the protected wetlands of the southern greenway. Except for a few trees that were “saved” from the bulldozers, the lot was deforested. Few tree stands of significance were left as buffers along the edges of the property and a portion of the wetlands were actually filled in. This trade off of wetlands loss for a few trees is unacceptable and the city will eventually pay the price when the completed hotel property is annexed into the city for the purpose of sewer and water (and fire and police protection). The county approves these zoning changes, allows almost complete loss of the tree canopy that they promised to protect (see Nassau County Code of Ordinances Article 37. – Natural Resource Protection, Section 37.02. – Native Canopy Tree Protection).

The county and city governments must cooperate on this initiative otherwise the last remaining parcels of forested land (and zoned residential lots) will be lost forever. There are no do-overs when it comes to our land, water and forests – once destroyed they are lost forever.