By Cindy Jackson
April 26, 2022
On March 7, 2022, Rogers Towers sent a letter to Nassau County threatening to sue for $27 million.
First to the podium at the April 25, 2022 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), were two gentlemen to discuss a long contentious 50-acre parcel on the south end of Amelia Island owned by Riverstone Properties.
Jack Roberts and Tony Smeraglinolio, both longtime residents of the south end, were there to encourage Commissioners to “stand their ground” and stand by the ordinance approved by the BOCC almost a year ago – on June 14, 2021. That ordinance was developed to establish height restrictions on new construction – not to exceed 35 feet – matching what is already on the books in Fernandina Beach.
Facing stiff opposition from Riverstone as represented by the Roger Towers law firm, that ordinance was amended in August of 2021 to permit structures of up to 45 feet. Theoretically, this was done so that high-end single-family homes could be built.
On March 7, 2022, Rogers Towers sent a letter to Nassau County threatening to sue for $27 million. That figure of $27 million represents the owner’s opinion of the lost value of the parcel with legal action provided under the Bert Harris Private Property Protection Act. The Bert Harris Private Property Protection Act was designed to protect a landowner against any lost value of their property due to actions taken by government. Florida is one of just a few states that provides for such a cause of action.
Riverstone envisioned building 11 84-foot towers – a project much larger than even the Carlton Dunes which has seven towers.
That vision would put the land value at an estimated $72 million.
If the tall towers are not permitted and Riverstone must resort to building 45-foot condominium towers instead, the land value, according to the owners, is reduced to $45 million . . . representing a loss of $27 million, the figure for which Riverstone has threatened to sue the County.
Opponents of the Riverstone project have offered another alternative – suggesting instead the building 18-oceanfront lots with an estimated value of $3 million each coupled with 18 lots near the beach with an estimated value of $1 million per structure. The end result – a cumulative value estimated to be $72 million, if not more.
They claim such a concept would preserve the character of the Island and protect so much of the natural environment that gives Amelia Island its unique character.
Both Mr. Roberts and Mr. Smeraglinolio encouraged the BOCC to seek outside and independent counsel to review the matter.
When asked to comment on the matter, County Attorney May said, “The action is still pending and taking its course pursuant to the statutory timelines. Please forgive me that I cannot comment on further litigation.” However, between Mr. Roberts and Mr. Smeraglinolio comments, Ms. May could be heard speaking very quietly saying, “Commissioners, just a gentle reminder that this is threatened pending litigation and I am still advising that you not comment on it.”
An attorney with of Rogers Towers, Emily Pierce, a frequent representative of the firm on land use cases was in attendance at the meeting.
To view the BOCC meeting of June 14, 2021, when the height restriction ordinance was passed, go to https://nassaucounty.novusagenda.com/AgendaPublic/MeetingView.aspx?MeetingID=911&MinutesMeetingID=-1&doctype=Agenda
Editor’s Note: This morning, Mr Tony Smeraglinolio posted the following comment on this article.
“Our recommendation to seek outside counsel is based on a Corporation’s best practices. While Corporations and our County has competent and dedicated internal legal talent, it is prudent to seek out experts in the narrow part of the law regarding a particular suit. This outside independent look provides insight to the strength or weakness of the suit and you can negotiate accordingly.
It was further brought to the Commissioner’s and County Attorney’s attention that we took it upon ourselves to have a respected firm look at the Riverstone claim and they essentially said it was frivolous and an attempt to bully the County.
While the vast majority of us do not want to see these towers we must follow the law and the law appears to be on our side. We urge the County to get outside counsel and not fall prey to these heavy handed tactics.