By Mike Lednovich
County Commissioner John Martin said in emails Tuesday that people are erroneously assuming the county is greenlighting Riverstone’s plan for 11 condo towers when in fact the county is actively trying to purchase the property.
“As I said after last night’s vote, due to pending litigation, I cannot disclose how I came to my decision because it would benefit Riverstone’s case if the settlement isn’t finalized. When I can, I will explain my vote. Also, what got lost in translation was Commissioner Huppmann‘s reasoning for approving the settlement. Efforts are being made by the county to pursue purchase of this property. We can’t do that and continue fighting in court,” Martin explained in emails to angry constituents after the county commission voted 4-1 to accept Riverstone’s settlement offer.
A packed county commission meeting room was stunned at the commission’s vote and conflicting statements made by A.M. ‘Hupp’ Huppman about the property. At the close of the meeting, Huppman made further remarks to a virtually empty room.
“My intent was for the county to find a path and a vision to obtain this property and to preserve and protect and put it in the system,” he said. “Not to expend untold resources through litigation and not have those funds to try this effort. Let’s do it right, lock it down and get it.”
Clearly, there was a disconnect between Huppman’s ‘lock it down’ comment and his subsequent motion to approve the settlement.
Some commissioners have stated they cannot speak publicly about the Riverstone settlement because of the pending unsettled lawsuits in court. They have been told by attorneys to remain silent on the issue.
Because of the imposed ‘gag’ order, commissioners could not discuss first clearing decks on the pending lawsuits. Once that is done, the next step would be a county-led process for raising funds and beginning talks with Riverstone to acquire the property.
County Commissioners’ vote of 4-1 to approve a settlement agreement with Riverstone Properties appears to allow the developer to build eleven 85-foot condominium towers on the south end of Amelia Island.
But if Martin’s assertion is accurate, the settlement will end the legal wrangling and associated mounting legal costs incurred to allow negotiations to begin for the county to buy the land.
“We’re still in litigation … regardless of the vote that happened tonight. Our hands were figuratively tied because if the vote went the other way and we rejected the settlement and explained how we got there it would have hamstrung our attorneys to then pursue that litigation going forward,” Martin said at the close of the meeting.
“I could not, based on legal advice and common sense, explain to the general public and to those folks here today how I got to why I voted the way I did. Once this litigation is complete I can then give that explanation … it’s more than just people who live in a certain area. It’s as Commissioner Huppman said 97,000 citizens and taxpayers of Nassau County.”
Initial estimates place the value of the Riverstone property at $50.5 million according to property tax records.
Martin and other commissioners do not have a plan for raising that kind of money. First, they want the deck cleared of all litigation. Then they’ll start planning.
I have it on good authority that Satan’s limousine is driven by a lawyer. Now, all of Nassau County is in the back seat.
Locking Riverstone into a value…
They would be in a much better position to negotiate without the vote in Riverstone’s favor.
Mr. Lednovich’s explanation does make sense, although it puts the county in a rather precarious position. Let’s see how this plays out, but still continue to fight for conservation of the land.
Having served on a county board that secured property in another jurisdiction, I know sometimes you have to make three rights to make a left hand turn. Not the most direct route, but if you want to get from Point A to Point B, that’s the way you have to go – especially when lawyers get involved.
Our county commissioners know what most of us want and we need to support them as they wrangle the legal mess that mars this landscape at present.
A land bank fund was established in Martha’s Vineyard funded by a 1% valuation tax at property closing. Other philanthropist’s have donated both money and land to preserve open spaces. Has the option of grants from environmental groups been explored?
I hope we are not being played here …..but I am skeptical to say the least . I would like to think that the county has our best interest in mind but I also know how sometimes that is not the case…..we will soon see but will be ready for anything .
I hope this latest version is the truth. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
I applaud the County officials if the true intent of their actions is to purchase the property for conservation. However, in the meantime, private citizens cannot let the litigation go by the wayside. Unfortunately litigation will need to continue to keep the development project from going forward. Best of luck to the Commission in purchasing the property for the betterment of all.
So then, Riverside could, conceivably, break ground and begin construction???
All this should have been revealed before the issue reached the voting stage. Nevertheless, with an agreement signed, the County will be arguing from a position of weakness.
I hope this explanation is correct, but good luck negotiating!
I don’t have enough facts, but if the commission voted as it did, OUR lawyers advised them to do it. This isn’t neccessarily an all or nothing situation. The developer should know that adding 10 towers in the face of an upcoming recession is a sub optimal use of the property. Anybody remember the concrete skeleton in downtown Jax for 10+ years? That could happen as well. There is a middle ground somewhere that doesn’t involve maximalist building or a “park.” There are other ways and they will be examined.
I haven’t seen or found a lawyer yet who prefers a “fight” over a “settlement”. They always maximize the risks and downplay the benefits with their advice. Look at the City Attorney and her Tringali property advice as a further example. They should be issued miner’s headlamps for all the “caving” they counsel.
Why would Riverstone (objective: make money) request and have County agree to pay off legal fees unless they were ready to negotiate on a sale/purchase of the property instead of development?
Why wouldn’t Riverstone go ahead with their development plans? They got everything they asked for. I think our commissioners were fooled big time!
Money talks and bs walks. There’s nothing complicated about this. The developers loom over the county commissioners like grim reapers! A real estate project this large has no chance to be stopped. Panama City and Destin come to mind.
I don’t live on the island but do spend time there shopping , doctor visits, etc. What I have come up with is an act that California did a few years back and that was they found an endangered species, a tiny fish, that halted any projects. But the island has quite dense foliage and trees and there must be a protected plant or two that would def put the skids on the unwanted project. Think outside the box.
“Martin and other commissioners do not have a plan for raising that kind of money. First, they want the deck cleared of all litigation. Then they’ll start planning.” (emphasis added)
The above is the most concerning statement to me. No plan? Just capitulate and give Riverstone everything they want, with no forethought for how to obtain funds to purchase the property? Chances are by the time the commissioners get their act together to formulate a plan, and accumulate the necessary funds, the property will have been sold to the highest bidder. I hope the commissioners prove me wrong.