FBCC discusses “race tracks” and grocery stores

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.

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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Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
4 years ago

Looking at the property appraisers records, there are 3 separate parcels totaling 42 acres. Property appraiser has them appraised at $3.0. If the trustee believes they are valued at $15 – 21 million, I think the property appraiser needs to do a recalculation.

Teri D. Springer
Teri D. Springer (@guest_55155)
4 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Or, more likely, the trustee is setting the price as high as he or she can to get more than appraised price. Funny thing is, the sign says it’s 26 acres.

chip ross
chip ross (@guest_55148)
4 years ago

“The Trustee said he would sell to anyone at market price: $350,000-500,000 per acre.”

I did say the Trustee would sell to anyone at market price. If I stated or implied the price quoted was $350,00 to $500,00 I misspoke. That price estimate was obtained from talking to several real estate brokers about their opinion as to what the property would sell for.

chip ross

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
4 years ago
Reply to  chip ross

Chip, still quite a difference in valuation of $3 million versus $15 – 21 million. I know tax appraisals are lower than real market price, but only 15 – 20% if the real estate brokers are accurate. One or the other is out of kilter don’t you think?

Christine Corso
Christine Corso (@guest_55153)
4 years ago

Pontificating on the “correctness” of property values is an outlier when compared to the much needed and critical discussion on the impact of vehicular Parkway traffic should both proposed developments be approved.

The Parkway services several new residential developments between Bailey and A1A, residential developments from the south-end of the Island, guest and employee traffic from both major hotels, and mid-island traffic via Simmons. The already congested 14th Street corridor will soon be subject to traffic originating from the 14th Street and Lime Development and a good guess is that many needing to go off Island from this development will opt to avoid the 8th Street mill and port commercial traffic by driving to A1A on the Parkway via the 14th Street turnabout.

Added to this mix are the soon to be finished bike paths that will cross the intersections of Simmons and 14th and Bailey and the Parkway. Amazingly, many drivers continue to demonstrate ignorance about turnabout usage/protocols and now these same drivers will be required to be respectful of those on bikes attempting to cross the turnabout.

Current data is needed from traffic counts on Parkway road sections before and after the 14th and Bailey Street intersections. This data should be incorporated and acknowledged in all and any potential approval discussions regarding both developments.

Bruce C Smyk
Bruce C Smyk (@guest_55154)
4 years ago

We need a moratorium on permits for new construction until:

1. the FLUM/ zoning issue is addressed,
2.an extensive study is done of the road system’s capacities,
3. a separate study of the the evacuation plans regarding increased vehicular capacity on the roads, not only on the island but also to Route 95, and
4. a study on the effective loss of varying percentages of the maritime forest on the environment.

The City and County should be looking down the road for 20, 30, 50 years.
Can A1A absorb more traffic whenever it is finished? Can the city streets handle the new hotel traffic? At Atlantic Ave., near Main Beach, a new 239 room hotel, at capacity, will add 239 (?) cars and how many employee cars to Atlantic per day- maybe 300 new cars per day, times how many trips out and in? A traffic count of maybe 500 – 750 vehicles at a small intersection onto a 2 lane road creates how much stress to the streets? How much wildlife crosses Atlantic Ave. near there? Our infrastructure is adequate to accommodate how many more people and businesses here without up-grading and at what price? Who will foot that bill? How long will it take? P.S. don’t hire the outfit doing A1A.

Teri D. Springer
Teri D. Springer (@guest_55156)
4 years ago
Reply to  Bruce C Smyk

The current FLUM/zoning issue is a city issue. The property is in the county. So that’s not going to be addressed. The property in question has long been zoned “Commercial Intensive” so the developer has no need of asking for a zoning change or variance. He’s within the guidelines. Same is true of the acreage for sale across the street on the other corner.

The rest of your concerns are spot on.

Since when does the county allow clear cutting as the developer of this shopping mall is proposing?? A member of the county department that handles tree cutting permits rudely confronted a crew from Cash’s when they came to take two trees down in my yard (badly rotted water laurels hanging over my home) demanding they stop because HE had not issued a permit to allow the removal of two such large trees. Had to convince him the trees were inside the CITY before he would back down. But it’s ok to clear cut 45 acres???


And this: ” 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” is a lie. The city guidelines would not allow clear cutting. I had to jump through hoops to get the permits to remove the two dying trees in my yard (which, byw, was followed by planting 6 more trees). The city should demand they ACTUALLY follow the guidelines INCLUDING the tree guidelines or they will not be annexed. Of course, we know the city is going to ignore this issue because annexing it brings in more tax dollars. Too bad those $$ won’t protect the island from erosion and hurricane damage like the trees do.

Frank Marone
Frank Marone (@guest_55160)
4 years ago

Thank you Bruce Smyk on your cogent narrative; this beautiful Island has been run over with faulty decisions always lookin at the tax bases for approving development. The Amelia River, honky Tonk scheme also need to be stopped immediately and giving up the only golf courses with no homes on it; beautiful creeks and ponds, a natural habital for birds and animals needs to be protected. Time to dump “City Course” ,, that is the laughing stock of island and make Amelia River the ” Public Course’ as it has the revenue andattributes that makes Amelia Island part of the touristic attraction that is providing economic benefits and time to plant Palm Trees on Sadler to dress up the 8/9 denter islands that would make the Hotels attractive. Where is the commitment??

Bruce C Smyk
Bruce C Smyk (@guest_55161)
4 years ago
Reply to  Frank Marone

If the River Course paid its rent to the City course instead of the airport, it could be a gem. It’s problem is a lack of money. The grounds crew is severely understaffed and working with some old, faulty equipment. The course is the only one I hve played in NE Florida with great shade. The River Course plays like Bataan in the summer.