Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 13, 2020
“Is this a good start, and are we heading in the right direction?” Bill Harrison (Harrison Design) asked the City of Fernandina Beach’s Technical Review Committee (TRC) following a presentation on his team’s plans for the former Standard Marine property between North 2nd Street and the railroad tracks.
The answer appeared to be positive, and a relief to those who feared that any development of the property would include demolishing the former Standard Marine Building. The concept presented to the TRC at their February 13, 2020 meeting proposed to use underlying lots of record to build 30 townhomes in addition to stabilizing and restoring the Standard Marine Building for an as yet undetermined use. The development team, consisting of developer George Morgan, architects Bill Harrison and Walter Green, and engineer Asa Gillette unveiled conceptual plans developed with input from the property’s current owner Richard Goodsell and city staff.
Harrison, the primary spokesman for the project, stressed that it is very early in the development plans and that their team had come to Fernandina Beach to “listen and observe.” He said that their preliminary concept was economically feasible, and that the developer wanted input from the city and the community.
While the future use of the Standard Marine Building is currently undecided, Harrison emphasized that their team understands that the building is an important part of the historic fabric of the community. Their intent is to stabilize and restore the structure, returning it to a usable condition in early stages of the project. Once that is completed, the developer will entertain options for leased space in the building that will determine the interior buildout.
The project’s current concept calls for two townhomes facing Alachua Street, which might be considered alternatively for commercial use; 8 townhomes facing North 2nd Street; 4 facing Broome Street; and 16 facing west toward the Amelia River. The property is in the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), but not the Historic District. However, the Historic District Council (HDC) will exercise architectural review over the eventual plans.
Harrison explained that the townhomes would be completely ADA accessible, with each home having its own elevator. He said, “This is the respectful and right approach for new construction.” The ground floor of each unit would contain a garage. And the major selling point will be the views from the residential areas and rooftops.
In response to questions from City Streets Director Rex Lester, Harrison said that the goal is to make this project an extension of the existing downtown by continuing sidewalks north from Centre Street in the same style. As part of that goal, it is the developer’s intent to seamlessly integrate this project into the downtown as opposed to having it stand out as a distinct development. “We want to make the environment better and more walkable,” Harrison said.
City staff applauded the developer’s intent to partner with the City where possible to combine efforts to make improvements. One major area of discussion was the Alachua Street rail crossing. Stormwater Director Andre Desilet suggested that although working together on this project would be a plus, since the City has no timetable, the developer should proceed with a plan that is not dependent on city action in this regard.
Senior Planner Jacob Platt asked if the developer intended to incorporate the Standard Marine Building into the local Historic District, thereby providing certain advantages during the rehabilitation process. Harrison said that they were aware of that possibility, but that it was their goal to make it handicapped accessible and comply with all ADA requirements. “Why just fix the building according to allowable exceptions, when we want to fix it for the future?” he asked.
Harrison said that the project team looks to complying with every condition, as opposed to seeking exceptions. In concluding his presentation, Harrison said, “You have been very helpful and very transparent. Because you have shared so much knowledge with us, it has helped us get going in the right direction. It is exciting to work with you, and this will be a great project for the City.”
According to property owner Richard Goodsell, the property has been under contract since December 2019, but the contract allows a long period for the purchaser to perform due diligence. Goodsell anticipates settlement in June 2020.