By Mike Lednovich
The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted 4-1 to Monday evening to approve a settlement agreement with Riverstone Properties that will allow the developer to build eleven 85-foot condominium towers on the south end of Amelia Island.
Both of Amelia Island’s commissioners A.M. “Hupp” Huppman and John Martin voted for the settlement along with Jeff Gray and Klynt Farmer. Martin and Farmer reversed themselves from a year ago when they voted against Riverstone. Alyson McCullough opposed the settlement.
The vote, absent of any discussion by commissioners, stunned the overflow crowd in attendance at the James Page Government Complex. The commission had heard 20-plus speakers voice objections to Riverstone’s proposal. No speakers with the exception of Riverstone’s attorney supported the project.
At first even Huppman appeared to support rejecting Riverstone’s settlement as he gave an 8-minute speech ending with “Let’s figure out a way to obtain this property and lock it down for the future of all of Nassau County. That’s where I stand,” he said. His remarks were met with applause but just seconds later, he did an about face and made the motion to accept the settlement as onlookers sat in disbelief.
“Based on the review of the settlement agreement I find the settlement is in the public interest served by the regulation… and appropriately necessary from inordinately burdening the Riverstone property. Therefore it is my motion that we approve this settlement,” Huppman said.
“What? What?” people in attendance blurted out.
No other commissioners explained their vote on the matter.
The settlement agreement was reached after months of negotiations between Riverstone and the county. It requires Riverstone to build a 100-foot buffer from the highway to the development, a 200-foot buffer on the southern boundary and a 25-foot buffer on the northern boundary. It would allow the 85-foot towers and a total of 150 “luxury” single family units. Riverstone would donate land for a beach access with amenities. The settlement will require the county to pay Riverstone $250,000 in attorney fees.
The county’s outside lawyer recommended approving the settlement. “Even if the county would win in litigation, these are things you wouldn’t receive,” she said. “You have to weigh the risks versus the costs of litigation.”
The settlement was met with anguished reactions from the community. Most residents were disappointed that the county had agreed to allow such tall buildings to be built on the island.
“We’ll see you at the ballot box Hupp!” one spectator yelled as he exited the meeting room.
Peter Brual of Amelia Island held a huge photo of the beachfront as he spoke prior to the vote. “can you see it? Can you see it? Condos over the canopy tree tops!” He shouted.
Richard Dean, Fernandina Beach said “when I read the settlement I thought it was an April Fool’s joke. If you approve this you’re telling the developers ’you get a free pass’ while everyone else has to follow the development code.”
Miranda Roberson of the Sanctuary said “twenty years from now when you see those condo towers over the trees will you say you know in 2023 I voted to have those towers built. That’s my legacy.”
The Amelia Tree Conservancy, a local conservation group, has said the development “is a tragedy for our island.” ATC maintains that the towers would destroy the natural beauty of the south end of Amelia Island and harm the environment.
Conserve Nassau, another conservation group, also expressed disappointment with the settlement. The group’s chair, Margaret Kirkland, said that the land should be conserved and added to the state park. “This land is largely maritime forest and wetlands that are critical for future storm protection on the south end of the island,” Kirkland said. “It is also a sensitive wildlife habitat and corridor.”
The BOCC’s decision to approve the settlement was ultimately a financial one. The county had already spent millions of dollars defending itself against Riverstone’s lawsuit, and it was facing the prospect of paying even more if the case went to trial. The settlement agreement will save the county millions of dollars in legal fees, and it will also bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue from the development.
The BOCC’s decision is a victory for Riverstone, but it is a defeat for the conservation groups and many residents who had hoped to see the land preserved. The development is sure to have a significant impact on the south end of Amelia Island, and it remains to be seen whether the benefits of the development will outweigh the costs.
Confused about your remark about a battle being over in 2021….there were two ongoing lawsuits up until a few hours ago….
Huppmann is a disaster for this island. 0-2 on key matters.
I am not happy with this decision. It seems that the current County Commission is determined to vote Pro Development on every issue, and that is the last thing that Amelia Island needs. We are getting more overdeveloped every day. Hilton Head South!
For 30 pieces of Silver…
Once again we see the value, nay, the necessity, of getting more involved in electoral politics. Conservatives and Progressives can unite in our county around conservation issues, which we must do to protect our county from more rampant and destructive development.
This is what happens when you have a 100 percent locked-down One-Party rule for decades.
Unincorporated island needs to be part of Fernandina city. The city has zoning and had the land been part of the city, this issue would not have happened. With less voting power each year, county politics is not the answer.
Sad day for the community.
A serous loss to this beautiful Island.
Outrageous. I have attended all of these Riverstone BOCC meetings and I am always amazed and impressed by the locals who step forward and make the case against this project and the process regarding the disregard for zoning ordinances. We have incredibly passionate and intelligent citizens in Nassau County. BOCC completely disregarded the groundswell of opposition. There is something rotten in Denmark right now. I hope journalists will do some digging.
There are many reasons why the Commission voted as they did and it has nothing to do with being in the pockets of developers (who by the way are responsible for all of the current residents fighting the proposal having their homes on the south end of Amelia Island)…
1) Personal property rights…previous Commission went down the rabbit hole of changing the rules for this property owner just before they were to sell the property.
2) What the County received in the agreement, I.e. beach access, buffers and the saving of millions of dollars.
3) Left open the possibility of someone or some government entity purchasing the property for fair market value to avoid any development. If a group of south end owners want to pony up the dough then purchase the land and donate it!!
4) There are already many of the same height towers at OMNI already and if the 85’ towers weren’t built a bunch of single family mansions similar to the ones in the Sanctuary and along Point would have been built. These aren’t skyscrapers folks. We have buildings of this size all over the island.
The Commission did the responsible thing here.
well said Jason
People need to oppose these issues during zoning/permit stage.. why do they think they will be heard at final stage of voting? And pro-development candidates were voted in!
Shame, shame, shame on county commissioners! Very short-sighted. They don’t understand the value of a maritime forest. When flood waters lap at their front porches, they might. I can hear the trees crying.
Maybe they were forced to do it because the law was on Riverstone’s side? Given that, the concessions they received weren’t too bad. Maybe the county should adopt zoning more in tune with what the public seems to want. This biased article fails to develop any of those things.
The County in interested in uncontrolled, at any cost growth. Wait until Wildlight is finished. Welcme to Myrtle Beach. You voted for these commissioners, now suck it up.
Wildlight strikes me as the opposite of unplanned growth. It’s going to have new jobs, new roads, new parks, and new schools. Seems pretty well planned to me. We love living here!
Sad but inevitable…change is coming to Amelia.
The county had no legal standing to stop the project. That’s reality. The commissioners had no choice except to settle unless they wanted the county to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on legal fees and judgments. Unlike the federal government Nassau County cannot print money as needed to pander to mob rule here. The commissioners showed courage in making the right decision though unpopular. That’s what leadership is. Bye the way, during her campaign Alyson McCullough supported the settlement during the “We the People” debate at Walkers Landing during the election. The island has survived tall Condo’s at Carlton Dunes and the Omni and will survive this and now codes and rules are in place so it doesn’t happen again.
Well put Tim.
I think it’s time for the island to breakaway from Nassau County and form it’s own government (Amelia Island County ).
that is never going to happen but the unincorporated part of the island could join the city of Fernandina which has full zoning authority.
Well, that sucks!
Please get over your faux outrage. This was a legal property rights issue and nothing more. I highly doubt any commissioner wants these buildings, but at the same time, they know the privileged facts of the case that was presented to them by outside counsel. Why burden the entire county with a $30MM settlement? They wouldn’t have approved the settlement unless they knew the number would only get bigger in the future. This propertyw as always going to be developed and it has considerably less density today than it did 40 YEARS AGO when the original PUD was approved.
The conservationists must recognize the way to attack this is not on a case by case basis, but with SWEEPING reform of land development codes and Future Land Use Maps. You can’t downzone people’s property for the sake of conservation, but you can make standards that apply to ALL and make it hard as heck to get projects to comply. If you want reform, do it with the law, not at a podium on a Monday night. That’s not a sustainable way to manage growth.
Good luck with your suggestion; politicians in Florida are backed and funded by the developers so why would they vote to do otherwise??
I don’t like the decision or the potential outcome either. Unfortunately, many of the comments “understandiing” the commissioners’ votes ring true.
Would it be out of the question to suggest the county vote on a bond issue to buy the property? I wonder how many Nassau County voters would vote “yes”?
I support a purchase to be funded by not only issuing a bond but also through additional real estate, tourism and sales taxes.
The pregnant pause after the Chairman asked if any commissioner wanted to make a motion was interesting. It was almost as if planned that the other commissioners waited for Huppman to shuffle through pages to find his pre-prepared motion. Wasn’t a good look.
We need to remember that the Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, a political committee funded by some of the most powerful corporations in the state channeled monies into our county and local elections.
Maybe residents will finally now realize there is a Nassau County ‘political machine’ that has consistently voted against community interests. Follow the money and please remember this at the ballot box in the future.
We are quickly losing the race to protect any degree of quality of life.
You hit that mail on the head! The real tragedy is that it’s too late to
ever get that train back to
Disaster. Bad idea for the whole Island!
I never thought they were conservative, liberal is their function
I CAN HEAR THE CHAINSAWS ALREADY. MAKES ME SO ASHAMED OF THE COMMISSION. NO WONDER ALL THE OLTIMERS WANT TO MOVE. THIS PLACE HAS BEEN RAPED BY GREED.
I guess I’m naive, but what is the point of having development rules if both sides ignore them?
It wasn’t a stunner to me at all. This stunner to me was what happened in 2021. As a contributor to Amelia forever I’m sad to see the developer be able to put in these buildings. However given what is transpired over the last 20 years it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t perfectly within their legal rights to do so. The option to buy the property is still on the table. That’s the correct way to go about obtaining the property and preserving it forever. Other comments that have been made about creating an overall legislative defense of open space is the right way to go. Trying to knock these things off one at a time at the last minute overruling what the developers can legally do will only make us poor in the long run.
Get used to this. The island is no longer the ‘king of the hill’ in Nassau county. Every year going forward, Amelia Island votes mean less.
There is an answer but Amelia Islander ‘tribal’ wars will keep it from happening.
The answer is that the entire island needs to be incorporated into Fernandina Beach. Fernandina Beach has zoning power. If the island was all FB (perhaps with a city name change), the island voters would have 100% of the votes to moderate the development.
This particular development issue would not have happened.
This battle is over but lots of county land remains on the island. If county islanders want more control then incorporate into FB and engage in FB politics to make sure that the focus is where you want it.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire?
Exactly the attitude that leaves zoning for county properties at county. If the island was one city, the new voters would have enough voters to ‘reform’ the current city management and practices. There is no free lunch.
Deep pockets win!!!
Wonder how much each commissioner is getting on this deal?
Let’s face it…there are NO benefits!
Does anybody realize that the south end of the island along with Big & Little Talbot was once owned by Union Carbide since the early 40’s and their plan was to strip mine the land for minerals which all the trees would have been gone! In the early 70’s it was purchase and saved by a developer who started the Plantation which he saved a large number of the trees. So not all developers are bad!
If all development on the island had followed Fraser’s lead having a “Master Plan” and concept of preserving the natural setting (trees and dunes) and incorporating those as much as possible into development, think of how special this place would be. The Plantation’s original plan called for natural preservation of more than 50% of the land, not including marshes. The density was1.6 residential units per acre. However greedy people like Healan and friends took over. Now we are where we are; which is screwed out of a possible paradise.
With a 1.6 density, half of us couldn’t live here and the other half would need to be multi millionaires. You want an empty island like Cumberland where only Rockefeller and Carnegie families can live. I like our current island. It is a very nice compromise.
For years I have advocated for Island incorporation, but it never got much traction. Non-city residents objected because their taxes would go up somewhat while city residents would see a decrease. The tax impact would have been trivial compared to this level and density of development, that the city’s stronger zoning laws could likely have prevented.It is not just the condo’s and their height that are serious impacts, but also the traffic that this development will generate.
Nice going BOCC!
Yes. And the only path is for the county properties to join the city.
Big mistake, it’s a sad thing when greed overcomes common sense.
Same old story..Nothing new under the sun.
I can imagine their pockets are being filled with someone’s greenbacks and it’s not the tax payers.
Money wins and we lose. I’m so upset over this, no one cares at Riverstone. They just buy people in order to get their development. Shame on you
The article in the Observer says the County has “already” spent “millions” in attorneys fees defending this lawsuit. I seriously doubt if this is the case. Riverstone settled its claim for fees by agreeing the County would pay it $250,000. If Riverstone paid $250,000 for its lawyers while the County paid millions, given the result I’d suggest the County get new lawyers.