Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 16 2018 1:14 p.m.
Fernandina Beach Preservation Planner Sal Cumella presented the city’s Historic District Council (HDC) with current photos of the Huot Building, more commonly called the Standard Marine Building at the HDC’s March 15, 2018 Regular Meeting. Built in 1882, this is one of the more iconic buildings in the city, harkening back to days when maritime industries and businesses flourished along the Amelia River in Fernandina Beach. It has survived many challenges over the years, including the 1898 Hurricane, a Category 4 by today’s standards, that destroyed most of downtown Fernandina.
The building was not included in the local Historic District at the request of its owners when the District was established in the late 1970’s. However, while owned by the Standard Marine enterprise, the building had been well maintained and treated as a historic building.
Following its sale to other owners the building has been the centerpiece of various development plans that have never materialized. The building has remained unoccupied for many years, as time, weather and lack of maintenance have taken their toll on the once attractive building.
While not located in the local Historic District, the building is located in the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). The HDC has design review authority for existing and proposed structures in that area.
After viewing Cumella’s 28-slide PowerPoint on the current state of the building, HDC members decided that they could no longer turn a blind eye, in hopes of imminent development, to the conditions that apparently imperil the building’s structure. They expressed fears that continued water intrusion through a hole in the roof could weaken the building’s walls.
There was strong consensus that the local community does not want to see the building torn down, but that it doesn’t want to see it fall down, either. Hope was expressed that by issuing a finding of Demolition by Neglect, the owner would take action to see that neither possibility materialized.
The case will be heard before the city’s Code Enforcement and Appeals Board (CEAB) next month. Hope was expressed that the CEAB would be able to prod the owner to take action to make necessary repairs to save the building from further deterioration until such time as it can find a new life in the community.
Should the owner not take action, the CEAB may start imposing fines at a rate of $500 per day. The fines run with the property, not the owner. The current owner of record is Front Street Property, LLC.
It was the hope of all parties involved—HDC, city staff, and audience members – that the property owner, who has always expressed a respect for the property, would act to stave off any further administrative action and make the needed repairs.
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.