Hotels Get Right to Make Walkway Over Public Dune and Heritage Trees

By Mike Lednovich

Championed by Mayor Bradley Bean and Commissioner Darron Ayscue, the Fernandina Beach City Commission approved a proposal to build a connector walkover over a 17-foot high secondary dune on a heavily wooded strip of land that would accommodate guests from one hotel being able to access the amenities of an adjacent hotel.

“It is a good plan that increases walkability for our city, and it increases different ways that our citizens and guests to our community can enjoy our environment, and that’s what we’re doing,” Bean said in support of the hotel plan.

At issue is the possible damage to a mile-long strip of city right-of-way on First Avenue starting at Sadler Road. The strip leads directly north into the Egans Creek Greenway.

A 4-1 vote now gives the Ocean Coast Hotel and Amelia Hotel at the Beach, owned by the same company, permission to go forward with a plan to build the walkover. Amelia Hotel at the Beach faces South Fletcher at the corner of Sadler, while Ocean Coast faces Sadler Road. The city’s First Avenue right-of-way separates the two complexes.

“What the public doesn’t get to see or understand is that these two properties are going to get a massive reinvestment,” Ayscue stated. “This hotel is going to be completely renovated and we’re going to see this be a jewel for Fernandina Beach at these two hotels. The ask is simple, it’s to try to connect and make this a resort area. So it’s going to be a complete resort area much like you would see at the Omni or Ritz. So start picturing that in your mind. That’s what we’re doing here.”

Those comments followed objections to the plan by City Commissioner Chip Ross, who advocated delaying approval of the walkover proposal until the hotel owners could provide more details.

Ross said there were no dimensions provided on the width or span of the walkway. He questioned how a walkway would be able to navigate elevation changes from one foot to over 17 feet in height over a secondary dune. Ross pointed out there were no dune protection plans in the city’s agreement.

“The agreement doesn’t talk about how they are going to go about preserving the oak trees in there that are heritage tree size,” Ross said. “Are they going to allow unlimited access to the public or just to their own customers? It doesn’t address who will be responsible for removing the boardwalk if this agreement is terminated, nor who will restore the land to its original state. I will not support this until I have written answers to all those questions for future considerations.”

Bean then summoned Pat Sidler, regional director of operations for the hotels, to respond to Ross’ concerns.

“Our company, we do all beachfront properties, so our first concern is the beachfront to take care of it and preserve it. Almost all of our hotels are key green hotels, so they pass all those certifications,” she said. “We don’t want to come in and cut a swath through that beautiful greenery and put down cement sidewalks. That’s not what we do.”

Sidler said the hotels would rely on an arborist to plan on protecting the existing tree canopy.

She said the walkover would enable guests from the Amelia Hotel to use the expanded pool deck and a planned lazy river at the Ocean Coast Hotel.

“The idea is to have our guests share the entire piece of real estate there,” Sidler said. “By doing that we can charge a higher rate, which means you’ll get more bed tax from us, which is a win-win.”

After asking Sidler several questions, Ross was abruptly cut off by Mayor Bean. “You know I can answer that,” Bean interjected.

“I’m not asking you, I’m asking her,” Ross fired back. “I’m speaking and I’m asking her.” Bean pressed on and said to Ross, “She’s being nice, I think you’re harassing her.”

But Ross told Bean, “The city is being nice by offering her a right-of-way. This is a public property, and this is going through part of our greenway, and I think the public has the right to know these answers. This is a private enterprise using public property.”

Later during his summation of support, Bean said Ross’ concerns “were serving to complicate the issue, I would say needlessly. You look at them and there are all common sense answers.”

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Noble Member
2 months ago

Sadly no surprises here..SMH

Jefry Bohn
Jefry Bohn(@jbohn)
2 months ago

Chip Ross is the only voice of reason on the City Commission… the others out before they ruin our community!!! Their agenda is not for the preservation or protection of our community!!!

Active Member
2 months ago

Once again, the City Commission disappoints. Commissioner Ross’ list of questions appear to be more than reasonable and the current Commission continues to vote on issues that are not fully researched. Mayor Bean also seems intent on shutting down any view that isn’t his. Election time can’t come soon enough.

Trusted Member
2 months ago

I’m just gonna start calling him the Beanie baby.

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
2 months ago

Bean’s comment that neither details of the plan nor safeguards to sensitive public property are needed because they are “common sense answers” shows how naive and pro-development he is. We can trust developers, right?!!

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
2 months ago

Looks like HRH Bean has smited Chip Ross and the people of Fernandina again…when he doesn’t want to discuss ..he just shuts you down…talk about privilege..he sure thinks he has a lot of it. not good for fair and equal government.

Noble Member
2 months ago

The questions by Ross should have been answered before giving open-ended approval. Bean makes a habit of stifling fair discussions and questions. Not how democracy is supposed to work.

2 months ago

Unfortunately, developers still win here. Ross was correct to ask questions. Bean said this was common sense. Well – This “common sense: should have been put in writing otherwise you are giving the developer carte blanche, regardless of what they said they have done in the past. The public has a right to know if we will have access or if it will be a “private” walkway for hotel guest only. This would be totally unacceptable!

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
2 months ago

The mayor literally campaigned for his seat with green & white signs in people’s yards that he was “Bean for the Trees”. (I promise, I will find one and post it for all to see when I do.) Now the mayor not only approves of cutting down trees but approves of this being done along the Greenway and across a dune! Who cares how many questions Commissioner Ross asks? Only those who do not want the truth to see the light of day. But let’s be sure to give the hotel company company spokesperson Bean ushered in plenty of unfettered time at the podium to state the company will be able charge higher rates yielding “more bed tax” which is false! If she had bothered to learn anything about our community at all before she spoke, she would know bed tax goes to the county/TDC and not to the city and, short of a disaster, they don’t share it back. The follow up questions to this horrible idea are not if, or when but which private enterprise group will step up next and demand they too should have the right to use our taxpayer funded public property for their environmentally insensitive and ecologically destructive ideas next. Four city commissioners are opening a Pandora’s box here and it will not end well for residents unless of course the city commissioner’s Vision 2045 is to become Seaside Heights south. #visionsofaferriswheelatBrett’s

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
2 months ago

As promised – so much for being “for the trees”…

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2 months ago

Who told commissioner Ayscue that city residents want a “massive investment” in an already congested area? How can the commissioners support a plan without knowing what the future holds for these properties?