Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 28, 2015 6:17 a.m.
The Land Development Code and Economic Development Working Group met on January 20, 2015 to continue its discussions on the 8th Street Corridor in Fernandina Beach. This group has been meeting since March of last year to advise the city on possible code changes that might spur economic development and improve the appearance of 8th Street/SR 200. The group represents a cross section of community interests, including economic development, city and county planners, Planning Advisory Board, real estate, architectural design and engineering, and business, as well as concerned citizens. City Commissioner Robin Lentz continues to serve with the group following her election. Members of the public have been encouraged to participate.
Adrienne Burke, Community Development Director, reported that she hoped to have a draft for the group in February so that work could be wrapped up in March of this year. She suggested that from April through the summer the city should concentrate on outreach efforts and present any proposed code changes to the city’s Planning Advisory Board in the fall.
The consensus appears to be to attract more mixed use to the areas bordering 8th Street, while continuing the C-3 for areas included in the Historic District. Senior planner Kelly Gibson asked group members if a density of 8 units per acre is sufficient, and if not, what would be more appropriate. Group member Nick Gillette suggested 20-25 units per acre, which would allow for 4 units on a 100-foot by 100-foot lot.
Group member Phil Griffin said that a higher density would allow developers to build more affordable, workforce housing, because rents could be kept low. Currently he said, “There is no way to create workforce housing within the city limits.”
The group members agreed that density bonuses work with large lots. Gillette said that such a plan might work for someone developing 6-8 lots, but not 4.
Audience members spoke to parking needs for new residences and space for people to walk, bike and run.
County Planning and Zoning Chair John Stack suggested that any overlay for the corridor be extended into the county. Burke asked if members were more supportive of an overlay or a new zoning district. The consensus was that higher density is desirable. County Planner Doug McDowell stressed the importance of preparing visuals to help people understand what an increase in density would look like.
Audience members joined in discussion encouraging incentivizing visual improvements to properties along 8th Street and development of a streetscaping plan that volunteers might assist in implementing and maintaining.
Burke was very clear that the city was not suggesting a separate design review process for development in this area. McDowell suggested, however, that the city might consider producing a “best practices” guide to help developers understand what look the city was trying to achieve.
Group member Eric Childers suggested that the city consider diagonal parking along the first block of streets that intersect with 8th Street.
City Planner Scott Schultz reported on his research into various incentives offered by other communities to encourage development in target areas. Examples included: waiving fees for business permits and banners; financial incentives for creating new jobs; incentivizing business relocations. Burke emphasized that such measures would not be part of the Land Development Code but would require approval at the City Commission level. She said that the city already has a model in that it waives certain fees for new home construction by Habitat for Humanity.
Burke deflected questions about utility impact fees, but in response to a question informed the group that commercial construction does not pay parks and recreation impact fees.
In light of anticipated growth in new construction in Yulee, group members believed that Fernandina Beach’s economic development efforts need to target redevelopment of neglected or under utilized space. Shelley Hirsch, representing the Nassau County Economic Development Board, reported that the county has formally adopted an incentives program to attract new businesses.
The next meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on February 18, 2015, in Fernandina Beach City Hall Chambers. The public is always welcome to attend.