Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 2, 2018 3:40 p.m.
During their May 1, 2018 Regular Meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commission approved on a 4-1 vote a Preliminary Plat for a 30-dwelling unit subdivision on 11.71 acres of Low Density Residential (LDR) land on Citrona Drive between Hickory Street and Fir Street and identified as “Amelia Bluff.” Two points of ingress and egress will be located on Citrona Drive, pending approval of Nassau County for roadway access. Commissioner Chip Ross was the dissenting vote.
In 2017, the City vacated a portion of unopened right-of-way (Ordinance 2017-25) known as, “Gum Street”, which ran through the mid- section of the site. The City and property owner entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (Resolution 2017-123) which stipulated certain criteria be met as part of any land development approvals. The wetlands portion of the property totaling 3.63 acres of land was transferred to the City of Fernandina through a quit claim deed on March 20, 2018 (Resolution 2018-39). Access to the abutting properties under ownership of the Florida Department of Transportation and located on the eastern edge of the property was established through the creation of a public right-of-way under Resolution 2018-40 on March 20, 2018.
The preliminary plat has been reviewed by the City’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) and is pending a final review prior to issuance of a compliance letter. Planning staff met with the engineer of record on-site in February to review planning comments specific to tree retention and street tree placement. The site plan has been modified to reflect the retention additional tree preservation and native vegetation that will serve to meet the City’s street tree planting requirements.
According to city staff, the applicant has fulfilled the requirements of the MOU and requests approval of the subdivision as designed to meet or exceed standards of the Low Density Residential land use category and R-1 zoning district and applicable LDC policies.
The FBCC considered the matter during a quasi-judicial hearing, and both the applicant and Planning Manager Kelly Gibson addressed commissioner questions and concerns. There was no public input.
Commissioner Chip Ross raised concerns over the bluff and the effects on the wetlands below, which the developer transferred to the city last month. He asked that the bluff area also be included in the conservation area to guarantee that future homeowners would not attempt to build in or cultivate the area. Engineer Nick Gillette explained that the bluff area would be protected by homeowner association covenants, city code enforcement and the Saint Johns River Water Management District. Gillette said that in effect the area was an easement on private property.
Gillette also addressed the tree survey and the need to create two dry retention ponds in the development. He said that he believed that these areas, 1 1/2 feet in depth, would remain dry most of the time, and that he hoped to retain some of the trees in the ponds’ footprints.
Ward Beard, representing the developer W.R. Howell Company, said that he had no interest in violating wetlands rules. He said that work on this project had begun two years ago and that in the intervening time he had changed engineers in order to minimize environmental impacts. He reaffirmed the importance of trees in marketing residential property and spoke to efforts to save trees by modifying street designs.
Beard said that in accordance with the MOU, his company would provide the city with $115,000 toward purchase of conservation land upon final approval of the plat.
Ross expressed his belief that the city could get a better deal. Other commissioners were quick to disagree. Vice Mayor Len Kreger said that the MOU represented a good compromise and that the city had never before gotten so much from a developer. Commissioner Roy Smith accused Ross of always being negative while he, Smith, considered this to be a nice plan. Commissioner Phil Chapman raised concerns over the increased traffic load on Citrona Drive. Other commissioners reminded Chapman that Citrona is a county road and that such concerns needed to be addressed to Nassau County.
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.