Signature Land offers new proposal to replace Amelia River Golf Course

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Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
September 23, 2019

Following public outcry against his proposal to convert the Amelia River Golf Course into a car centric complex, Signature Land Company developer Steve Leggett and his team went back to the drawing board.  Leggett and his team have met one-on-one with dozens of people throughout the community to take input and address concerns.  The result is a slimmed down proposal for the Amelia River Car Club, only 40 percent the size of the original proposal.

The site will feature large green spaces – about 70 percent of the 175-acre facility.

Gone are the driving track and the family entertainment center, including the go-kart track. The hotel has been redrawn as a 100-room boutique hotel, with a smaller swimming pool.  The additional entrances to the property have been eliminated.  There are no proposed changes for the landscaping along Buccaneer Trail.

The centerpiece of the development will be 210 single-story club member garages, which will provide car enthusiasts a place to store and admire their special vehicles.  A showcase area will allow manufacturers to display their cars and host driver education events.  A member clubhouse will also be part of the project.

As in the initial proposal, there will be no residentiial units on the property.

Because the project will replace the existing golf course, there will be no need for tree clearing.  Large areas of the property will remain conservation lands, and there will probably be more trees planted to some areas.  “We are leaving some areas open,” Leggett said, “as event space, room for auctions, and parking space for car trailers bringing vehicles to the Concours d’Elegance.”

Steve Leggett said, “We listened to all the comments.  What we heard was that what we were proposing initially was too much for the community to bear.  In our desire to provide amenities for the community, we loaded the project with too many features.  But we don’t want the community to change, so we scaled back our plans to concentrate on building an ultra luxury, high end club where car enthusiasts can house and enjoy their cars.”

Leggett emphasized that the only “driving range” on the property will be one to accommodate Driving Dynamics.  That activity currently takes place on a runway at the City Airport.  Via public records request to the City, Leggett determined that there have been no related noise complaints filed during the past 5 years.

The cost for the slimmed down project has dropped to $85M from the original $125M.  There will be 150 jobs created under the new plan.  The City and the County will receive increased ad valorem tax revenues; the airport will receive more rental income.  There will also be more money spent in the Amelia Island community by club members and event attendees.

Retained from the original plan is a car detailing/repair shop.  The developers hope to attract local youths who might be considering a career in repairing and maintaining high end cars to work with them in this facility.

An area designated for pickleball courts has been added.

In order to keep the public accurately informed on what the developers propose for the site, a website.has been created.  People are encouraged to use a form available on the website to ask questions and clear up misconceptions.

Leggett has asked City Manager Dale Martin to set up individual meetings with City Commissioners so that their input might be considered prior to a public presentation of the plan.  At this time there is no formal public presentation of the plan scheduled.

One of the key supporters of this project is Bill Warner, Founder and Chairman of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Foundation.  In a letter to the Fernandina Beach Mayor and Commissioners dated August 12, 2019, Warner explained that space and logistical needs for the annual car festival have grown over the years.  He wrote, “Sponsors and manufacturers are the lifeblood of event experiences like [the concours] and they require significant space to showcase their innovative vehicles in a safe and friendly environment. … In order for the concours to survive, we will need to accommodate the needs of the sponsors such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover. Infiniti, Lexus and a host of others, we will require this type of development.  Otherwise we will have to evaluate other proposals from communities [that] would welcome the concours with assets that would allow us to meet the requirements of the future.”

Warner continued, “This facility will undoubtedly be a jewel in our community’s crown and create a place where car enthusiasts from around the world can come and enjoy their shared passion — all while respecting our local residents and natural charm.  The activities taking place at [this development] would be similar to those that are already a regular occurrence at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport—like the Jax Solo event [that took place in August].”

The proposed development’s website will be updated as more information becomes available.  A notable statement on the site:

“There will be absolutely no vehicle racing at the Amelia River Club. Period. Any claims to the contrary are false and misleading.”

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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20 Responses to Signature Land offers new proposal to replace Amelia River Golf Course

  1. Robert Warner says:

    Seems like the tail keeps trying to wag the dog. Ominous. Wonder what the impact of HB 7103 – just signed into law by DeSantis – may have on challenging future Developer manipulation. Both Arron Bean and Cord Byrd, unfortunately, voted for it. What’s better – just rezoning and saying no now, or confronting a future filled with litigation cost risk. https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2019/05/30/environmentalists-ask-desantis-to-veto-bill-that-could-stifle-development-challenges/

  2. Elizabeth Ann Huben says:

    I really had to laugh when I saw that pickle ball courts have been added. So – within the property we are going to have garages, cars, what is essentially a drag strip and mechanical repair and detail activities going on but – in a move to appease what must be perceived as a significantly large group of Amelia Island residents, there will be pickle ball courts. Creative but still a “no”!

  3. Lynda Bell says:

    Elizabeth Ann Huben — I totally agree with you.

  4. John Goshco says:

    Sure – build a small-scale version today. Then come back in five years, claim that “finances aren’t as good as anticipated” and build out the original plan.

    The reason there have been “no related noise complaints filed during the past 5 years” is that this was a limited, once-a-year event, not a 365 day-a-year operation.

    Vague threats of losing the concours aside, the concours should stand on its own merits. If it needs more space or larger facilities, then it should make its future needs known. The concours already pays the city for truck parking and auction facilities near the airport and at the golf course. This “additional income” amounts to counting the same dollars twice.

  5. Dave Lott says:

    Carefully worded statement “there will be no racing” but no mention of the performance driving course. 210 garages for performance vehicles – what is the expected usage as I doubt if one is going to pay for a garage and only use the car a couple of times a year. Also, the map is wrong in that it shows the abandoned runway currently used for the driving training a couple of times a year as part of the existing golf course lease which it isn’t. Also important to note that the driving dynamics training is permitted on a one-time basis and each time they want to hold their training, they have to apply for a permit to be approved by the city commission. The map legend makes it appear that it has been granted a permanent permit.
    No question the closure of the golf course will reduce the competition for the city course, but how many rounds transfer over remains to be seen or will most move to Amelia National? I have concerns like John that this is allowing the camel’s nose under the tent as I just can’t see the economic feasibility of many of these planned activities. I know it is not generally the city’s business to weigh in on the economic viability of a business, but this case is different since it is city land and they are looking for an extended lease.

    • Vince Cavallo says:

      Good catch Dave on the location of that runway. So, we now have a boutique hotel located in the vertex of two main runways. A few thoughts. First off, is this outside a noise area? Second, given the airport is a secure location, how is entry and exit going to be granted to the renters. Lastly, I noted in the airport plan this comment: “…it was specifically noted that land under the approaches of Runways 22, 26 (now 27), and 30 (now 31) in the clear zone were not released but an easement granted for the land to be used for a golf course only and clear zones must be kept clear…. Seems to me there is no approval to do anything there but run a golf course.

      Just from my perspective, I don’t see individuals renting hotel space two miles from the beach given there are two resorts oceanside right now. I also don’t see individuals housing their expensive autos in a garage with the sole purpose of visiting them and admiring them in the confines of their garage. No, this is the camel putting its nose under the tent.

      Mr. Sheffield has a lease which has about 15 years to run. If he chooses to give it up, so be it. The city does not have to alter the lease. He knew what he had going in, he bought the lease out of foreclosure. The lease allows for a golf course and hotel, nothing more.

  6. John Goshco says:

    Thanks Dave. I have mentioned this in previous posts. “No racing” only means that cars, motorcycles and go-carts won’t “compete” against each other or against an “official” time clock. It doesn’t mean that multiple vehicles won’t be going fast, competing against their own best times, making noise in the parking area or performing high risk activities.

    When they discuss noise, they like to focus on engine noise on the “track” (as if it’s a one-time thing) and ignore the sounds of screeching tires as well as engine noise in the garages, parking areas, etc. They always forget to mention that this is a 7 day a week operation all year long.

  7. Donna Green says:

    Absolutely NOT! The City Council is planning to pass the new millage assessment tomorrow, September 24, 2019, which is supposed to be used for buying conservation land. Why could the tax assessment, which is considerable, not be used for maintaining this land that the City already owns for conservation rather than granting a lease to a developer? This new proposal is just the same old song to a different tune with the same goals as before down the road.

  8. Skip Rimington says:

    Just trying to do the math on traffic as the developer repeatedly indicates that traffic on Buccaneer Trail will not be significantly increased over the current traffic resulting from 30,000 annual rounds of golf at Amelia River. Ok 30,000 rounds of golf comes out to some number fractionally smaller than 100 per day, add in the staff of the course and deliveries for the small dining area at the club, and it still does not add up to 120 daily. Now let’s look at this proposal, 150 jobs, 210 garages and a 100 room boutique hotel that operates at capacity. Why just the hotel and employee traffic alone will more than double the traffic on Buccaneer Trail once the proposed facility is in full operation. In addition, can you imagine the construction traffic on this beautiful canopy road required to build 210 garages and a 100 room hotel (not to mention the pickle ball court).

  9. Mrs. D. Hunter says:

    I thought Warner’s imperious threat to take his car show off island couldn’t be topped, but this outright nonsense from Leggett’s website takes the prize: “Nearly 25 years ago, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance first arrived in the region. Since then, car enthusiasm has become a part of the fabric of this community.”

  10. Frank Quigley says:

    Concours in Amelia is considered one of the top exotic & premium car shows in the world. Nice cachet, and all that for the local area. That said it may very well have out-grown its venue and the possible move to the Daytona Beach area (truly car centric since mid-20th century) would actually be best for the franchise. There are excellent tracks, driving facilities, hotels and Interstate Highway access there.

  11. Nancy Dickson says:

    Just No. With the creation of new walking and biking paths, we as a community are trying to become less ‘car-centric’ not more. Take the noise, the fumes, the additional air traffic bringing in the high rollers, the excess hotel space (we have new ones going in on Atlantic that have already cost us much of our maritime forest) – just send it all elsewhere. The cars will not stay in this development, but cruise down Centre Street to show off, creating noise and congenstion where we don’t need it. And yes, I agree with earlier comments, this is the camel’s nose.

  12. Thomas Lohman says:

    Just say no! The Sheffields knew the details of the lease when they purchased the property and knew Commission approval was needed for any changes to lease length or use of the property. The citizens owe the Sheffields nothing other than maybe driving off the Island to buy liquor so their (almost) monopoly on the Island isn’t supported.

    If, for some unfathomable reason the Commission says yes (thus proving they don’t want to be re-elected), then do not extend the lease until we see what kind of neighbor the Leggett group becomes. I know they say a longer lease is required for financial reasons but let them earn it over time while we validate the camel’s body isn’t sliding under the tent after its nose got in..

  13. L. Dawson says:

    My letter to the Commissioners:
    Dear Sirs:

    I am once again writing to you regarding the above. I am disappointed that this issue is still hanging over our heads. There has been nothing even remotely acceptable in any of Mr. Leggetts proposal. After working in legal offices for over 30 years I have seen this quite a few times.

    Here is how it goes. They spend months and probably years coming up with their concept. They shop it around to potential investors. Then they come up with a “dummy” plan. Throw everything in it and watch the outcome. They expected it. They couldn’t answer key questions because they didn’t want to give out any real information. When that falls through, as expected, within a matter of weeks they have suddenly developed a comprehensive plan.

    The next step is to get you, the Commissioners, to vote on it, hopefully before your terms expire.

    High pressure meetings, behind closed doors, is not in the best interests of this community. It promotes mistrust of our elected officials.

    What is in our interest is transparency. Reading over the various public statements of those involved, it is clear that the Sheffields had no intention of only running a golf course. They were looking for the best deal. That is normal, but underhanded. Leggett has also admitted that this proposal is only a start. Which means he will continually whine to the commissioners until he gets what he wants.

    The majority of residents of the city of Fernandina Beach have expressed their feelings for this project. It was no. Not in our community. I don’t believe that anything Leggett will ever propose would be acceptable.

    If you really want to work to enhance this community, maybe focus on all the empty store fronts and properties already in existence and provide incentives for revitalization that would benefit the entire community and not just the few elite.

    Please stop this now. It is in your power to put a vote on the agenda whether to extend the Sheffield’s lease. As a citizen I am asking for this vote. And I am asking you to vote no.

    P.S. the public wants to know if the Mayor is going to recuse himself.

    • Vince Cavallo says:

      Things have been in the works behind the scene for years. For instance, this is a small portion from the notes from meeting for the development of the Airport Master Plan in 2015:” ….Core 6 recommendations: Car storage/car testing track/auction area for the Concours types….At some point, this area will not be useable for aviation…. It could be valuable to show some type of development in the plan….but show no prescriptive development Other than the lower portion, which is wetlands, it has always been our goal to team up with the city for limited development such as waterfront cottages, etc….”

      From all the notes taken together, one can see the airport group functions as its own entity. How it is planned and presented is carefully rehearsed. If the group envisions conflict with the citizens, City government,or even FAA grant processes, plans are cast to position the facility in its best light. Best example of that is the discussion about increasing the length of runways. The group is to not call them runway expansions because doing so gives the impression of extending the airport boundaries, rather, they are to use a more “tactful” term like “extensions”.

      Importantly, one item addressed in these notes is airport revenue. “FHB is an approx. $500k/year airport (revenue from rates, charges and airport usage)…. Getting creative on how to raise revenue in the future at the airport – not expected to grow revenue from GA activities alone. Key is non-aviation activities; not heavy industrial, but from other tenants seeking to lease property on the airport.”

      So, IMO, the hotel/race track etc issue is not a one act play. It is a serial. My advice is just say no because to alter this lease will be the opening lines in an epic explosion of development on and to the airport property. The lease brings with it 200K a year now. The airport nets 300K with it. So what if it is foreclosed.

  14. John Goshco says:

    Or – give them what they’re asking for, but no more. Split the golf course into two or more leaseholds. Give the Sheffields 10 acres for their garages, clubhouse (and maybe a small hotel) without the “test course”/drag strip. Keep the other 160+ acres for parks, recreation, industrial development, a second Fixed Base Operator or other compatible uses. Why should the city lease all of that acreage to a single small automotive facility and lose the future ability to put the rest of that “vacant” land to better use.

    Of course you’ll still have to deal with engine noise in the garages and display areas, even if it’s reduced somewhat.

  15. Barnes Moore says:

    Here is my letter to Mr. Riddell given that he generously invited people to send him their commenrs.

    Mr. Riddell:

    I am sending this correspondence per your offer to email you at any time re: the proposed Car Park on Amelia Island. I doubt I have much new to add to other emails you have likely received, but think it is important to add my voice in opposition to this proposal. While I think the idea of a car park is fine, I don’t think it is a good idea for a relatively densely populated area on a small barrier island. We are already experiencing substantial growth which is leading to increased congestion and straining our infrastructure.

    During one of the presentations made to the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners, a comparison was made between the car park in Dawsonville, Georgia to what is being proposed for Amelia Island. Just a little research shows a stark contrast in geography and demographics. Dawsonville is a small community of 2536 residents as of the 2010 census and is located in Dawson County with at total population of 22,330. Compare that to Amelia island with a current population of 33,695, and a total population in Nassau County of 73,314.

    Moreover, the MotorSports Park in Dawsonville is itself located in a very sparsely populated area more than 300 miles from the coast – in fact, it does not look like there are any residential developments within several miles except for what looks like a few scattered homes nearby. The terrain is hilly, not flat, and the park is separated from downtown Dawsonville by what looks like about 4 miles of hills and dense tree canopy – Dawsonville, and especially the car park, are literally in the middle of nowhere. The proposed car park for Amelia Island, on the other hand, would be located immediately adjacent to multiple residential developments separated by sparse tree canopy and no hills.

    I also suspect that the amount of traffic, both commercial and non-commercial, in and around Dawsonville is substantially less than here. I have serious doubts that the proposed changes to the road system here would do much to mitigate the additional congestion stemming from visitors to the park.

    The net is, while the car park in Dawsonville may have a very positive impact for that community, a similar park here would have a very negative impact on our community.

    The contributions made by the Concourse have been substantial and are greatly appreciated. However, this proposal undermines the goodwill developed between the Concourse and Amelia Island. There is what would appear to be a reasonable compromise to use the abandoned runway at the Fernandina Beach Airport for test drives during the Concourse. I personally have no knowledge of what this entails, but understand this concept has been floated, and rejected. To me, working on a proposal to use existing facilities that would not require destruction of other facilities makes a lot more sense.

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