Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 5, 2019 4:42 p.m.
Two of the news items raising either hopes or blood pressure of island residents involve plans to build a grocery store as part of a commercial complex on Bailey Road at the Amelia Island Parkway and a proposal to convert the Amelia River Golf Course into a car-centric complex consisting of a driving course and a go-cart course, among other features.
During their June 4, 2019 Regular Meeting, commissioners briefly discussed both in order to clear up some public confusion.
Amelia River Golf Course
City Manager Dale Martin confirmed that an hour-long workshop has been scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on June 18, which will immediately precede the Fernandina Beach City Commission’s (FBCC) Regular Meeting at 6:00 p.m. The purpose of the workshop is to allow developer Steve Leggett to present his plans for redevelopment of the golf course to the FBCC, and to allow commissioners to ask questions. City Manager Dale Martin said that he has also invited the two Nassau County Commissioners whose districts include Amelia Island to participate. There will be no public input taken at the workshop; there will be no commission action taken at the workshop or in the Regular Meeting that will follow the workshop.
In response to questions from Commissioner Mike Lednovich, Martin acknowledged that Leggett has expressed his intent to present a proposed lease for the city-owned golf course property on June 18. However, Martin stressed, there would be no vote scheduled on the lease until July 16, giving both commissioners and the public time to consider both the proposal itself and the lease.
Commissioner Chip Ross asked if parts of Leggett’s proposal could be released in advance of the June 18 workshop. Martin said that it has been erroneously reported that votes on this project will be taken at the June 18 meeting. He said, “I think the developer is owed an opportunity to present his plan at the workshop before it is nitpicked apart prior to that meeting.”
Ross also asked that the legal or land use issue regarding any permitted use of a driving course or go-cart track on city property be resolved soon. It appeared to him that such addition might involve revision to the city’s land development code. Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed with Ross, saying that if the change of use is not allowed under current code, it would need to go through the standard procedure to request a change in the Land Development Code, which would be a long process.
City Attorney Tammi Bach expressed her intent to consult with the developer’s attorney on this matter.
Grocery store on Bailey Road
Later in the meeting Commissioner Chip Ross addressed some of the underlying concerns of citizens regarding the need to preserve land from development. He reported that there are plans for a commercial development including a grocery store in a 45-acre parcel of maritime forest along Bailey Road at the Amelia Island Parkway, currently in the county and zoned commercial. The developers presented their plans at the last Technical Review Committee meeting, because they intend to follow city development rules prior to annexing into the city.
Ross said said that he had called the Trustee who owns the property, which has been for sale for a long time, to see if he would entertain other offers. The Trustee said he would sell to anyone at market price: $350,000-500,000 per acre. The North Florida Land Trust is not able to assist with this matter at this time.
Ross said that if citizens of the island want to preserve this property, as a citizens group they need to come up with a benefactor or an organization willing to buy this property. He suggested that perhaps the city and/or the county would be willing to assist. “But basically,” he said, “if you want to buy this property it’s time to walk the talk. I am a proponent of buying conservation land, but the city is not in a position to buy this. There is not an unlimited well. And this area is zoned commercial.
“As city government, we can’t save the world. If the community wants to save this property they need to get together and step forward. It is expensive property that the owners have held for years, and they want a return on their investment.”
Both Mayor John Miller and Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed with Ross. Kreger said, “Over the years there have been funding opportunities that have not been seriously considered.” Miller said, “There is a misconception that this commission is not in favor of conservation. We do have a conservation fund and we do need to put money into it. We recently agreed to purchase undeveloped land owned by the Episcopal Church.”
Miller also pointed out the priority list of city lands identified by the North Florida Land Trust for purchase as conservation land. The land Ross discussed is not on that list or even in the city. “We need to buy the most sensitive land first,” Miller said.
Kreger added that the county has expressed heightened interest in purchasing land for conservation, but that they support voter referendum as a step to doing so. By the time a referendum on this particular piece could be placed on a county ballot, the transaction would have already taken place to permit and build on the commercially zoned land.
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.