Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 15, 2019 3:30 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) gave final approval on Second Reading at their March 5, 2019 Regular Meeting to Ordinances 2019-06 and 2019-07, which provided for a small scale Future Land Use Map amendment and zoning change for property located at 118, 120 and 116 N. 2nd Street. As a result the properties have been changed from the General Commercial (GC) land use and C-2 zoning designation to Central Business District (CBD) land use, and C-3 (Central Business District) zoning designation.
The properties in question are located east of North 2nd Street across from the Standard Marine property and between the proposed miniature golf course on the corner of Alachua Street on the south and the city parking lot at Broome Street on the north.
This Ordinance was approved at First Reading by the City Commission at its Regular Meeting on February 5, 2019. Commissioners were split on the final decision.
The moratorium on FLUM changes enacted at the same FBCC meeting did not affect this application, which has been in process since last year.
City Staff Report
The action was requested in order to allow for an urban mixed use redevelopment pattern and to correct the existing non-conforming uses of the properties where residential dwelling units have existed in a General Commercial land use and C-2 zoning district for many years. Both properties have maintained grandfather residential units on the respective properties.
The parcels involved with the applicants’ request are located within the City’s Amelia River Waterfront Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). As such, any future structures constructed on the vacant properties must comply with LDC provisions specific to CRA properties. The City’s website contains more information about the CRA and its design guidelines at www.fbfl.us/CRA. Design review is handled through the Historic District Council. One of the established criteria of blight for the CRA was inadequate and outdated densities. Through individually initiated private applications, the City has supported the change from General Commercial/ C-2 or Industrial/ I-1 to the Central Business District/ C-3. Support for the conversion has been based on the compatibility with extending the urban development pattern historically witnessed within the area and as demonstrated by the property located at 120 N. 2nd Street.
Within the area surrounding the applicants’ property are a wide range of existing uses including; a warehouse and storage area serving the port’s needs; public parking directly facing the properties; and vacant land within the CRA which historically contained a variety of uses. The properties’ existing land use and zoning under General Commercial/ C-2 is not compatible with the surrounding area. The applicant’s requested action provided a down-zoning or transition from the port’s industrial operations to the adjoining residential areas.
The most compatible land use and zoning designation for these properties as well as the properties fronting N. 2nd Street is Central Business District (CBD)/ C-3 zoning. The CBD/C-3 zoning designation exists diagonally from the applicants’ properties as part of the former Standard Marine property on North 2nd Street between Alachua and Broome Streets.
Staff recognized the need to assign the appropriate land use and zoning district of Central Business District (CBD)/ C-3 zoning to the public parking lots located at the corners of N. 2nd at Alachua Street and Broome Streets in keeping with the direction to create and extend the urban core through the CRA. Staff intends to file an application to correct the land use and zoning for these properties in order to establish a consistent land use and zoning district patter for properties on N. 2nd Street.
Staff found that the need for additional land area within the CBD land use category is demonstrated through the properties’ location within the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and further bolstered by the range of uses which historically existed on this block face. Application of the CBD land use category to these properties serves to correct the current inefficient and inadequate land use pattern which exists within the area. Further, the proposed land use category serves to protect the neighboring residential uses and allows for residential development opportunities within walking distance to the services and employment options in the downtown area.
The future infill development of these properties that may be accomplished under the proposed CBD land use enables the downtown streetscape to be extended thereby, making an even clearer connection between this area and the rest of downtown consistent with how the City originally developed. This would make the area more walkable and pedestrian friendly to the adjoining residential neighborhood.
Staff found photographic evidence of the urbanized streetscape that existing along N. 2nd Street prior to the 1876 fire which burned the original structures within this area. Previously, the County Courthouse was located along N. 2nd Street in addition to a variety of retail and trade services.
Applicant presents case
Attorney Theresa Prince, of the firm Tomasetti & Prince, represented the owners of all properties in presenting the application to the city. Two speakers supported the change as a means of improving the appearance of the area as well as adding more revenue to city coffers. One speaker opposed the change because it would eliminate “non conforming uses,” or houses and provide for increased density. According to Chip Sasser, the primary applicant for the requested changes, “If the FLUM is approved and the project developed as planned, this will be the first mixed-use (commercial/residential) development in the CRA [Community Redevelopment Area] and will meet the objective discussed at the 1-22-19 city commission workshop on the CRA which is to ‘foster a thriving small-town atmosphere in which civic pride, personal wellbeing and a balanced economy are nurtured and protected.’”
Following Prince’s presentation, Commissioner Chip Ross indicated that his opposition had not changed because he believed the city was turning commercial land into residential land and did not have a firm understanding of how much commercial land is left in the city.
Commissioner Mike Lednovich said that he had been struggling with the issue, which he supported on First Reading. He claimed that on further inspection of the property, he could not imagine townhouses on the property. He felt that if the city opted for rezoning, it should be changed from commercial to low density residential “to preserve the culture and flavor of the neighborhood.” In what seemed like a somewhat contradictory statement, he said that prior to his election he sat and watched the FBCC change the FLUM. “It’s never changing to commercial or industrial,” he said. “It’s always changing to residential. So I can’t support this.”
Prince reviewed the existing zoning map and said that given the zoning of the surrounding properties — Central Business District along North 2nd Street and Medium Density Residential on North 3rd Street — her clients would not be able to support rezoning to Low Density Residential. She also reminded commissioners of height and buffering restrictions in the CRA.
Both ordinances passed on 3-2 votes. Mayor John Miller, Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Phil Chapman voted in favor while Commissioners Mike Lednovich and Chip Ross voted against approval.
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.