By Mike Phillips
City Hall was packed last night. Standing room only of citizens, many of whom came because a proposal to build 12 townhouses in the heart of the historic district was back on the agenda.
And then it wasn’t.
The announcement was simple: the applicant had withdrawn without warning because one of the heirs to the property had not yet signed a release to let the developer buy the five historic buildings – if the plan was approved – and tear them down.
The neighborhood was there in force to defend not just those five houses, but the character of the district. They had gathered in meetings and decided what they should say to the City Commission. They had carefully constructed and rehearsed the three minutes each of them would be allowed to speak.
So instead of making their speeches, they asked questions: Where in the city codes does it say that every last heir has to sign off on such an application? And why was the city not following a regulation that when an individual house is demolished, the underlying plat remains? And why the big, last-minute surprise?
It emerged that City Attorney Tammy Bach had required the missing signature. She said it was not a usual requirement but because the townhouse request was so high-profile she thought it necessary. So apparently, the applicant had withdrawn on her advice.
And two theories emerged among the neighbors: It was simple incompetence on the city’s part. Or the city staff – which had supported the application – was getting cold feet because the neighborhood was so organized and was getting assistance from a high-end lawyer who wrote a memo that many people think absolutely crushed the city attorney’s legal reasoning.
Who can say? But the truth will out. So stay tuned.
I don’t understand all of the fuss.
Good for Tammi Bach! Thank you for this report. Like many citizens who treasure the Tringali legacy, I pray that the homes will be purchased by those who wish to preserve their character. This is not an impossible dream.
Except for the fact that the City let this application go through the Technical Review Committee last Summer (passed), then the Planning Advisory Board this past December (rejected unanimously), then to the City Commission last week. All parties had to submit all applications as well as arguments against two business days in advance. I had neighbors who drove 10 hours to get to the meeting. And our City Attorney only brings up that signatures are missing minutes before the City Commission meeting starts? The city said they only asked for the signatures because it was a high profile case (seems like you would want signatures for every case). Then, the city said they did not know if this was a withdrawal or a continuance. We still haven’t received that answer. Think of all the hours spent by City Staff (100s or even 1000s) on this. At taxpayer expense. And they didn’t even ask for the signatures the first day this was submitted? Something is seriously wrong here!
Good for Tami Bach. That’s what a good attorney does. It’s not a “popularity” contest.
How do nice townhomes affect the “character of the district”?
You need to think about infrastructure, traffic, owners vs. renters etc.
How do you know they are nice? Have you seen any elevations?
The City is a “Preserve America Community” based around a historic district with an over 200 year old history which still makes it a fairly authentic southern town. Most people do not want to see inauthentic monuments of housing based on ‘new urbanism’ and packed density. We “are” already a walkable compact community- we don’t need to be packed in like rats. Physical spaces have an impact on people’s live- and “smart growth” isn’t all that smart when it comes to authenticity and the ambience of Fernandina Beach.
just a thought but perhaps maybe someone should reseach owner concurrence. In most states, an application cannot be presented until all owners have signed a letter of concurrence PRIOR to application submitted. The application cannot go forward if all owners have not signed a letter of concurrence. Perhaps we should look more into this.
Our concern is that this was only a strategy to tire us out and delay to another meeting where we could not be so organized. Two of my neighbors had driven 10 hours to get to the hearing. I had spent days preparing. Many people spent many hours getting the word out. I know that for the quasi-judicial hearing, which this was, all documents from the applicant as well as any affected parties had to be submitted two business days in advance to the City Clerk. So the question is, if this was a requirement, why didn’t the City know 2 days in advance that the applicant was missing signatures? Why did they wait until the meeting to ask for them? This project should have pulled this from the agenda two business days before, saving time and money for many neighbors. To me, this just shows a lack of respect for citizen’s time. Also, this submittal went through the Technical Review Board last summer, then the PAB this December. Why did this proposal go through these committees without the proper signatures? Seems like a huge waste of time for many and a severe lack of oversight from someone. Does our Planning and Conservation Department have a checklist for projects? I personally would like to see the one completed for this project.
I agree with you completely and believe that the city knew that they were missing one signature but believed it would be ok but then when more and more questions arose about this entire project and how it was being mishandled, the city attorney thought it best to obtain that last signature. The deputy director of Planning imo, has mishandled this from day one. There is no room for one applicant to be treated any differently than another, yet this happens time and again. A developer shouldn’t have preferential treatment over a homeowner, and everyone should be treated the same when applying. This has to stop!