Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 20, 2018 – 4:15 p.m.
The former First Baptist Church School, located on North 5thStreet between Celebration Church and the historic Lesesne House, has been vacant for many years. Located in Fernandina Beach’s Historic District, the building is also in the city’s Central Business District. In recent years potential developers have eyed the building for a variety of uses, most notably in 2015 when local businessman and then City Commissioner Tim Poynter developed plans to turn the facility into a lodging facility consisting of 24-30 loft units to meet affordable housing needs and short term rental needs. Poynter abandoned the effort when it appeared that there was no practical way to meet the city’s parking requirements for short-term rentals.
But architects and developers for Lofts on 5th, LLC, have come to the site with new plans, this time to convert the building into 9 high-end condominiums. Representatives of Silling Architects,a firm based in West Virginia, appeared before the Fernandina Beach Historic District Council (HDC) on April 19, 2018 seeking conceptual approval for design plans for HDC Case 2018-16. In their slide presentation they explained how they had studied building character and design throughout the downtown area before adopting what they called a concept of “strategic minimalism” in making changes to the building exterior.
The building itself dates to the 1960’s, outside the period of the Historic District. It has therefore been deemed a “non-contributing structure.” Nevertheless, the architects have proposed only minimal changes to the exterior: replacing the deteriorating windows with casement windows; eliminating the rotting columns and roof structure at the Fifth Street entrance and replacing them with less massive elements; bumping out small balconies for some of the units.
Probably the most innovative change, which will not be visible from street level, will be a roof top public gathering space to be shared by all unit owners and three separate roof top areas with private access to be associated with the three units on the building’s third floor.
The architects explained that the building will be handicapped accessible and include an interior elevator. There will be 2 units on the first floor, 4 on the second floor, and three on the top floor.
Two neighbors spoke to the project, expressing tentative support while expressing concerns about the need for noise abatement for the mechanical equipment and relocation of the dumpster that currently sits on the site. Other concerns included the bump out balconies and resultant privacy concerns and the desire to tone down or eliminate any exterior lighting that could interfere with neighboring residents.
HDC members reacted positively to the concept presented. In granting unanimous conceptual approval, the HDC attached the following conditions that they wanted to see addressed when the project returns for final approval:
- Images and elevations showing the building in context of its surroundings;
- Plans for the placement and screening of mechanical systems and dumpsters;
- Alternative railing systems to the frameless glass walls currently proposed for the balconies and roof garden;
- Exterior lighting plans.
Current city code does not require off street parking for residential buildings in the Central Business District.
To view the entire application package for HDC case 2018-16, click here.