Former First Baptist School to be converted into condominiums

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 20, 2018 – 4:15 p.m.


Views of existing building that formerly housed the First Baptist Church School.

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.

Architectural rendering of renovated building

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.

Proposed roof gardens and public gathering area

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.



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Neil blalock
Neil blalock (@guest_50877)
5 years ago

As a property owner whose property backs up to this property I will be interested in how balconies on west side if any will affect our back yard and privacy. Also concerned about noise from roof top area since our bedrooms are only thirty feet away. This is certainly a big change between he agreement between my wife’s grandmother and the baptist church when this building was built. Then, it was agreed the building would only be used for religious purposes, with no overnight activities

Michael A Spino
Michael A Spino (@guest_50888)
5 years ago
Reply to  Neil blalock

It’s my understanding that there are no balconies on the west side.

Gordon Dressler
Gordon Dressler (@guest_50878)
5 years ago

Even though the building is a “non-contributing structure” in terms of guidelines for existing buildings with the City’s Historic District, I wonder how the overall plan obtained HDC approval given that, to the best of my knowledge, there have never been condominiums in the Historic District north of Centre Street, thereby violating historic precedent and established community standards for that area.
Moreover, the referenced building falls within the City’s C-3 zoning, and Chapter 2 of the City’s LDC states the following:
“2.01.12 Central Business District (C-3)
The C-3 District is intended for the development of land uses within the central business district
as the City’s center for residential, financial, commercial, governmental, professional, and
cultural activities. The Central Business District category is designed to accommodate single-family or duplex residential uses, either freestanding or in mixed residential and business use
structures; offices; commercial retail; personal services establishments; restaurants; transient
accommodations; commercial parking facilities; civic uses; and cultural uses.”
(ref: )
Note that C-3 zoning description is specific in mentioning “single-family or duplex residential uses” and makes no mention of higher density residential buildings being permitted within that zoning.

Mary Anne Waikart
Mary Anne Waikart(@mwaikartgmail-com)
5 years ago

Unfortunate that code did not allow work-force priced housing when that was proposed by Tim Poynter and others (including us) — because of the lack of parking. So now we can have expensive housing requiring no parking spaces.

Am I to understand that people using more expensive housing don’t need parking while people living in less expensive housing do? We continue to live with changes that a series of bad zoning decisions made by various City committees and officials have brought to our city.

Gordon Dressler
Gordon Dressler (@guest_50901)
5 years ago

You make a good point about the differences in City requirements for parking for short-term rentals versus no parking requirements being imposed on residential housing.

The proposed condominium project will most likely have a long-term adverse impact on parking along North 5th Street between Alachua and Centre Street and perhaps along Centre Street itself. The referenced building is being planned for nine “high-end” condominiums. With a US national average of about two cars per household, one can expect there to be a need for 18 parking spaces just for automobiles for the the occupants of this building.

Since these are targeted to be “high end” occupants, one can also predict that there will be a need to park perhaps another 9 occupant-owned vehicles such as motorcycles, RVs, trailers, or small watercraft (e.g., a jet-ski).

The building’s currently-available parking area on the south side appears capable of having at most 16 standard-size parking spaces, resulting in an estimated deficiency of 11 parking spaces. Obviously, additional parking spaces will be needed for any guests arriving to visit or stay overnight in any of the nine condominium units.

Those estimated 11+ occupied parking spaces will be on City streets within the Historic District.

Gordon Dressler
Gordon Dressler (@guest_50905)
5 years ago

This is a follow-up to my comments of April 21, posted above.

1) Chapter 4 of the City’s Land Development Code (LDC) recognizes “multi-family structures” can exist within C-3 zoning but contains Table 4.01.01. “Density and Housing Types in Base Zoning Districts” that specifies the maximum gross density, in terms of dwelling units per acre, for C-3 zoning is 8.0. (Ref: )

2) The building referenced in the article appears to be situated on two standard 50′ x 100′ lots, comprising a parcel that is 100′ x 100′, or 0.23 acres, in size. For nine dwelling units on this parcel, this amounts to a gross density of 39 units per acre, or nearly 5 TIMES that allowed per City’s current zoning law.

3) In the above article, there is no reference to the architects or developers of Lofts on 5th, LLC, applying to City or HDC for a variance on maximum gross density requirements of Section 4.01.01 of the LDC, nor was such mentioned as one of the items specified by HDC that needed to be addressed prior to the HDC granting final approval.

4) The drawing and description of the “Roof Garden and Public Gathering Area” in the above article implies that permanent structure(s) will be added to the roof of the existing building. This is tantamount to adding a partial fourth floor to the building. The assertion that this modification “will not be visible from street level” is just not credible, unless it is masked by an even-more-visible high screen around the edge of the existing roof.

5) In summary, I see the proposed plan for the referenced building includes the following:
— a gross dwelling density in violation of the C-3 zoning requirements (LDC 4.01.01),
— probable creation of needed parking spaces significantly exceeding those available on the building site,
— architectural modifications that result in the appearance, if not fact, of adding a partial fourth floor to the existing building and to extending its actual physical size (plan view) by use of “bump out” balconies, and
— a development at odds with the general wording of the intent, albeit not actual letter, of C-3 zoning as stated in LDC 2.01.12.
Considering that these facts are contrary to the historic standards and culture and land/building uses within the City’s downtown Historic District north of Centre Street, which encompasses the referenced building, one has to question why the HDC granted unanimous conceptual approval— and why the HDC attached so few additional conditions-to-be met for final approval—of this proposed development project. Perhaps they were too enamored with the peacock-phrase “strategic minimalism”?