By Taina Cristner
In early 2006, at the beginning of the aughts’ housing bubble, the city of Fernandina Beach rewrote the city’s Land Development Code. Then-City Attorney Braga, at the request of the then-city commissioners, wisely included language that would preserve downtown Fernandina’s character.
The intent of the language was to stop property owners or developers from tearing down one home and replacing it with multiple homes. It’s so important it is listed in the first section of our Land Development Code, which states:
Section 1.03.05 Construction or Demolition of Structures on Combined Lots:
“In order to maintain open space, visual corridors, neighborhood character, property values and visual attractiveness of residential areas, wherever there may exist a single-family detached residential unit or, a duplex structure or any auxiliary building or structure … such lots thereafter constitute one building site and must be considered the “lot of record,” and no permit will be issued for the construction of more than one residential dwelling unit on the site.”
On January 26, 2006, City Attorney Braga presented this draft language to the Planning Advisory Board. Here are sections of the approved minutes of that meeting:
“Ms. Hartley (city planner) read the proposed 1.03.05 language that was drafted by the city attorney. She clarified that this zoning and land use restriction is on the property on which someone built a house — and now the city doesn’t want the property owner to try to maximize profit and increase density across the board by tearing down that house and putting up two houses.
Chairman Bennett suggested including this language so it would be quite clear. He commented that the intent of the board was to allow single buildings, but where lots have been combined and single improvements put on them to keep it that way.
Member Conger noted that entrepreneurs would purchase an existing building on a lot and then they’ll split it in order to build two houses. He questioned if this effectively puts up a barrier to activity like that. Ms. Hartley replied, “correct.”
Fast forward to today, where current city administrators are trying to ignore this code. The precedent-setting case of this approach would be the Tringali property, where an applicant would like to tear down four single-family homes and replace them with 12 townhomes. I presume the applicant would like to do this to “maximize their profit and increase density across the board.” Exactly what our Land Development Code Section 1.03.05 prevents.
Planner Hartley assured the board in 2006 that the language drafted by then-city attorney Braga was clear and would “put up a barrier to activity like that.”
Several of our current city commissioners have declared they are “pro-property rights.” I agree – I am also pro-property rights. However, being pro-property rights does not mean that you allow neighbors to break laws.
For instance, my neighbors cannot drill for oil, run a speakeasy, or start a goat farm on our downtown properties. Why? Because it is against our laws. The same applies to developers who would like to tear down single-family homes and replace them with multiple townhomes. Why can’t they do this? Because of Section 1.03.05 of our Land Development Code.
Section 1.03.05 of our LDC is clear. The intent of the board that approved it is clear. There is no ambiguity. There are no gray areas. If our current city administrators and private developers don’t like it, they can try to change it. But they can’t ignore it.
Our city commissioners have sworn to uphold the laws and codes of the city of Fernandina Beach. Because of section 1.03.05 of the Land Development Code, they have no choice but to reject the Tringali proposal for 12 townhomes without breaking their oath.
If our city commission approves the Tringali townhome project, then I’m applying to open that goat farm – after I drill for oil. You can come over to my speakeasy and hear all about it.
Speak out now and save our downtown! The city commission will hear this case 6 p.m. May 16 at City Hall.