302 Ash Street construction resumes

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 30, 2017 1:00 a.m.


Project architect Jose Miranda has reported that the construction schedule for a new mixed use building at 3rd and Ash Streets is now back on track, with steel to support the second floor delivered last week. Pozzi Enterprises, LLC, the building owners, have envisioned a food establishment on the first floor that would serve as a coffee/wine bar with one or two residential units on the second floor.

Plan for new building at 302 Ash Street in Fernandina Beach, FL

The project may appear to have been abandoned for the past two months, but the work stoppage was not a matter of choice. Problems arose with connecting electric power to the new building. Those problems have now been addressed, but they cost the owners more than $29,000 to resolve and delayed the project more than two months. Currently, plans call for completion of the project in December or January.

Building as it appeared on May 25, 2017


At their August 18, 2016 Regular Meeting, the Historic District Council (HDC) of the city of Fernandina Beach gave unanimous and final approval to case HDC 2015-15, thereby green lighting the construction of a 3,225 sq. ft. 2-story mixed use building that would provide commercial space on the ground floor and residential above. The HDC first heard this case in October 2015, at which time it approved demolition of the existing structure (which was later moved, not demolished) and conceptual approval of the new building.

Work appeared to be finally underway on the new building in late 2016 – early 2017.Suddenly construction stopped in March. It seemed to project watchers that after the foundation and cinder block walls had gone up, nothing more was happening.

Although the project had secured all the necessary city approvals before breaking ground in November 2016, it appeared that one big problem had emerged as construction got underway: connecting to an electric power source. Due to miscommunication between the project engineer and FPU, the need to relocate existing power lines did not surface until March 2017, when FPU effectively halted construction. The city tried unsuccessfully to intervene to restart the stalled project.

As the photo below shows, electrical power was available to the site. Utility poles were located in the city rights of way on both Ash and S. 3rd Streets. The previous site occupant had been connected to power via the existing poles. However, FPU ruled out a simple reconnect to the 3rd Street pole due to the siting of the new structure less than 10 feet away. The cost of providing an electrical connection to the new building: $29,000. This came as a surprise to the owners, who appeared to rethink their project, halting construction until they reviewed their plans.

Utility pole on S. 3rd must be removed; utility pole on Ash will stay. Building that once stood on the site has been moved to Indigo Street.


A conversation with project architect Jose Miranda and email exchanges with Ramiro “RJ” Sicre, Florida Public Utilities (FPU) Manager for Government Relations, helped clear up the mystery.

Miranda said that the problem could have been worse. Had FPU required the owners also to relocate the second utility pole on Ash Street, costs would have been significantly higher. However, the property owners were required to pay the charges for trenching to place the 3rd Street lines underground: over and above the $29,000 FPU charged for moving the line.

When contacted to determine if the ruling on either distance to the utility pole or hook up charges resulted from company policy changes, FPU’s Sicre wrote, “We have not changed our policy on hook-up charges. As you know, we are regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission and they must give approval to policy changes. … Due to different scenarios, requests for hook-ups, new service, service relocation, undergrounding requests, etc., are reviewed individually and priced accordingly as directed by the PSC tariffs.  As to the ‘less than ten feet from power poles’ that is a safety issue that is part of the electric code.”

The existing utility pole that will soon be eliminated.

In response to other questions, Sicre responded, “Normally the customer or their project manager (architect, engineer, contractor, etc.) contacts FPU before they start construction of their project and reviews with us their design and electric requirements. Final design and specifications are then attached to plans and submitted for permits. However, there are instances where customers contact us after they have met with and receive approval by City or County officials and changes have to be made. Relocation of facilities is usually based on a request from the customer.  Requests can be based on a desire from the customer for conversion to underground, safety concerns with a new building or structure, or a customer relocation of their service point or change to electrical load. These are discussed as soon as the customer or their project manager, architect, engineer or general contractor contacts us before the projects starts. Overhead to Underground conversions are normally a request from the customer. A Contribution in Aid of Construction Agreement is signed and paid by the customer prior to commencement of construction.”

If there is a moral to this story, it is this: Don’t assume that just because your building or your site was connected to electricity in the past it will be simple—or cheap– to get reconnected in the future. The term “grandfathering” does not apply, even in areas where power lines have existed in well-established areas like Fernandina Beach’s downtown.

Plan accordingly to avoid costly surprises.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.