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.