First Lower Density Step Taken in Race to Beat ‘Live Local’ Law

By Mike Lednovich

In an effort to blunt revisions to Florida’s “Live Local Act,” which supersedes all local government regulations regarding development, the city’s Planning Advisory Board (PAB) voted Wednesday to lower the density in the Central Business District from 34 units to 18 units per acre.

The PAB’s decision follows Fernandina Beach city commissioners’ decision to have city staff make the recommendation to the PAB in order to head off new revisions to the “Live Local Act,” which take effect as early as June.

New provisions of the act passed by the Legislature stipulate that: preemption for unit density – Municipalities and counties may not restrict unit density below the municipality’s or county’s “highest currently allowed density.” The word “currently” is added throughout the new bill, to ensure that if maximum density is reduced in the future, Live Local Act projects will continue to receive the current maximum.

The Central Business District, zoned C-3 in the city’s zoning code, is roughly located between Alachua and Ash streets and between Eighth Street and the Amelia River. Under Live Local, developers could use the 34 units per acre maximum anywhere in the city if these changes were not made.

“We need to remember where we live, we live on a barrier island and because of that we need to keep our density as low as possible,” Margaret Kirkland of Conserve Nassau told the PAB. “We need to be careful about what we do because it has consequences for the future.”

During discussion prior to approving the change 5-0, some PAB members sought to have even tighter density restrictions to 10 units per acre, but decided to get the 18 units “on the books” and then tackle reducing it even more at a future date.

“I personally would like to see the density lower than 18 (units) because that’s the way this island has wanted to be developed. I’m not sure of the procedure to get there,” said PAB member Mark Bennett.

Bennett supported making 10 units per acre a standard for the entire city, not just the Central Business District.

City Attorney Tammi Bach supported the PAB making the change to 18 units, but cautioned that more information was needed in order to lower the density maximum even further.

“Whatever the number is, there is some urgency to this,” PAB member Richard Doster pointed out. “I hate density and I hate that somebody is going to bring 33 more cars here.”

City Planning and Conservation Director Kelly Gibson said since the zoning had been changed to 34 units per acre in 2017, only three projects had been built in the Central Business District using that revised number.

“The end objective is to get this from 34 to a number that will be accepted by the state,” said PAB member Pete Stevenson.

Lowering the density will require changes to the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. That will require two separate votes by the city commission at their meetings in May and June.

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Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

Saving the historic and downtown areas from more dense development is a good idea, but extending that policy to all of the city is shortsighted and lacks compassion for all of the workers that must travel to our island for their jobs. Coupled with a robust and efficient public transit system, well-designed and truly affordable housing will decrease pollution, decrease traffic on our roads, and allow the people that provide vital services for the rest of us to enjoy the same environs that we do, have more time with their families, and have a little extra cash in their pockets, which will certainly help local businesses.

Noble Member
1 month ago

The “Live Local Act” sounds a lot like a Govern Centrally Act.