FBCC approves rental of accessory dwelling units, but not in Old Town

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 9, 2019 5:00 p.m.

Despite continuing objections from Commissioner Phil Chapman, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted 4-1 to approve Ordinance 2018-40 on Third and Final Reading at their May 7, 2019 Regular Meeting.  Commissioner Mike Lednovich, who was recovering from surgery, voted from home via Skype.

The ordinance allows homesteaded property owners to rent out Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs) under certain conditions, including:

  • Total floor area of the detached ADU is limited to 625 square feet;
  • Maximum height for the detached ADU, whether a separate building or an apartment over a garage, cannot exceed 25 feet measured from the approved finished grade to the highest point on the structure;
  • The ADU must be located in a rear yard.

Commissioners supporting the ordinance expressed hope that such a move would provide more affordable housing units in addition to allowing for “In-law apartments” or “granny flats.”  The adoption of this ordinance also provides benefits to those property owners who desire to age in place.  Old Town is not included in this ordinance at this time.

Commissioner Phil Chapman

Commissioner Phil Chapman opposed the ordinance on the grounds that it would increase population density and aggravate existing parking issues.  He referred to this as “development:  one small unit at a time.”  He also expected problems with monitoring and enforcing the rules.  He expressed concerns that the ordinance would pit neighbors against each other when problems with renters arise.

This Ordinance was approved at First Reading by the City Commission at its Regular Meeting on October 16, 2018. The Commission considered the item at Second Reading on January 15, 2019 and remanded the item back to the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) prior to final consideration for inclusion of provisions to require homestead exemptions in order for rental to occur. Staff also eliminated the proposed amendments to allow for attached ADUs to avoid any confusion between duplex construction and a principal structure with an attached ADU.

At Second Reading, the City Commission also requested consideration of changes to allow for ADU rental within the Old Town zoning districts.

On March 27, 2019, the Historic District Council (HDC) hosted a meeting to discuss concerns related to development within Old Town. One of the topics of discussion was ADU rentals. There was overwhelming opposition to allowing rentals by the majority of Old Town residents present at the meeting. However, the HDC directed staff to prepare recommendations for ADUs to be considered at a future meeting date. 

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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