Nassau County Commissioners reject 85-foot tower settlement

Florida Politics
By Wes Wolffe
May 24, 2022

Riverstone’s next possible move is filing a Bert Harris claim.

A general rule in Florida is that developers get what they want, but Nassau County leaders turned that conventional wisdom on its head Monday night when County Commissioners voted 3-2 against settling the case brought against it by Riverstone Properties under the Bert Harris Act.

However, because the Act requires a settlement offer, the offer that will be presented to Riverstone will propose no change to county building height regulations.

“There’s an enormous number of good citizens, they’re taking their time here on a Monday night to speak with us and hear what we have to say,” Commission Chairman Aaron Bell said before the vote.

“This is in my Commission district. I do understand the concerns of the folks who live here. I live there. I cannot and will not support the settlement, and my vote will be for option three, where the county tells Riverstone to pound sand and see you in court.”

Bell voted “yes” with Commissioners Klynt Farmer and John Martin to reject Riverstone’s offer. Commissioners Thomas Ford and Jeff Gray voted “no.”

Riverstone wants to build 11 towers, with maximum heights of more than 80 feet, next to Amelia Island State Park. Riverstone believes the 45-foot maximum height for that area of the island is a direct attack on the developer and its plans, and is actionable under the Act.

The public anger at Riverstone and the possibility of the Commission siding with the developer led to a lot of people letting their thoughts known. Bell received more than 50 phone calls on this one issue over the past few days, and more than 500 emails from people opposing Riverstone’s proposed settlement agreement. People packed the Commission meeting room Monday, with standing room only for a number of people.

A beach access provided in compensation wouldn’t open up any new beach to visitors, and is near the south island beach access points a few hundred yards from the north and south ends of the property.

“This is a law, I think it’s important to say, (that) was a creature of the Florida Legislature,” said Susan Erdelyi of the firm Marks Gray, regarding the Bert Harris Act. She is the attorney supplied by the county’s insurance provider, the Florida Association of Counties Trust.

“It is a law that to my knowledge only exists in Florida. … It’s a pretty aggressive law to protect the rights of private property owners, to the detriment of local governments.”

County Attorney Denise May and County Manager Taco Pope met with Riverstone and the proposed settlement agreement is what Riverstone will accept to end the lawsuit. However, Commissioners ultimately decided to offer no changes, but with a new statement of allowable uses.

Riverstone’s next possible move is to file a Bert Harris claim, Erdelyi said, keeping the matter in the courts. Both sides would engage in the discovery process — they would take depositions, gather information and seek to resolve the matter there.

“I will tell you that I can’t say out loud any details about what those defenses may be,” Erdelyi said. “You do have defenses available to you, in my opinion, but the problem with this law is the stakes are so high if you were to lose. Fortunately, in the situations I’ve had, my clients have prevailed, or we’ve been able to work out resolutions to where the clients did not pay these enormous sums of money.”

County officials said raising those funds would take just over 2.7 additional mills for local property owners.

“Ms. Erdelyi had said earlier about how costly it could be and what’s at stake here, and that could be up to $30 million spread out over all the taxpayers of Nassau County if we were to lose,” Ford said.


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John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_65155)
1 year ago

This is a good start, but it’s going to be a long race.
Did Ford and Gray give reasons for their “no” vote?

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Goshco

One of them, I couldn’t tell which one, stated that he did not think his constituents would want an increase in their taxes to pay for a lawsuit. That was the only reason I heard, that I might have missed some thing else.

Larry Westbrook
Larry Westbrook (@guest_65169)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Goshco

I agree with John, it will be a long race. Hopefully our county leaders will continue to vote FOR the people.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_65156)
1 year ago

There’s a reason the Burt Harris Act is unique to Florida. That is due to the idiots in Tallahassee. It is a law that can devastate a local government overnight and our legislature doesn’t care..

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 year ago

If there is any line in the sand to draw against developers, this one is it.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 year ago

The meeting’s agenda item on the public survey of CLAM was a perfect prelude to the Riverstone settlement agenda item. In the former, 61% of those surveyed were willing to pay extra in property taxes to pay into a fund that buys land for conservation. I would assume that is representative of many residents of west Nassau County, too. There is finally a consciousness in this county that overdevelopment is ruining where we live.

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_65167)
1 year ago

Thank you to Commissioners Bell, Martin & Farmer for thinking about the island, it’s not all about the money.

Perry Anthony
Perry Anthony (@guest_65172)
1 year ago

Developers just like them totally DESTROYED beautiful old Ft. Lauderdale, let’s not let them do the same thing to Amelia Island.

John Calkins
John Calkins (@guest_65173)
1 year ago

Who presides over a Bert Harris claim? County Court? Jurors? Jury pool district? Or some other firm if arbitration? It matters. County doing as residents ask, in county court with resident jurors, seems pretty clear to me who wins that one.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
1 year ago
Reply to  John Calkins

This may help understand the Bert Harris Jr. law. Practically every case is unique, and it appears that not many people in the court system, bar association, and legislators know much about it.

Mark Gee
Mark Gee (@guest_65221)
1 year ago

I assume this big company knew that development height in the beginning so what’s the problem it’s time to Tell the big people quit pushing the little people around just cause they have money and millions rules are rules no different to me getting a ticket for not using my blinker so pack your toys up and leave go to New York big boy