Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 3, 2018 2:30 p.m.
History was made last night as the Fernandina Beach Code Enforcement and Appeals Board (CEAB) held its first ever televised meeting. The first case on the agenda dealt with code violations found on what is commonly known as the Standard Marine Building, located at 101 N. 2ndStreet.
According to the staff report prepared by city Code Enforcement Manager Michelle Forstrom, “Over time the building has gone into disrepair, with broken window panes, window frame deterioration, missing downspouts and scuppers and/or in disrepair, paint failure, graffiti, water intrusion, and holes in the roof. The fences have vegetation growing on them and there is debris that has fallen off the north side of the addition on the ground.”
During her report to the CEAB Forstrom noted that the case had been referred to her following the Historic District Council’s (HDC) March 15, 2018 finding that the building was suffering severe deterioration due to deferred maintenance.
Shortly thereafter Forstrom notified Richard Goodsell, the building’s owner, of the specific violations and began discussions with him over minimum requirements to bring the property into compliance. Following a joint meeting between Goodsell and city representatives on April 10, she believed that Goodsell would begin work on the deficiencies through his property manager. However, as of a follow up inspection she conducted on April 26 in preparation for the CEAB hearing, she found that the deficiencies had not been addressed. She therefore recommended to the CEAB that they assess a $250.00 fine per violation per day and administrative fees incurred until compliance is achieved.
Attorney Harrison Poole represented the building owner, who was undergoing surgery that had been scheduled prior to the notice of hearing.
Poole emphasized the owner’s sincere desire to save the building and to have it restored. He noted that there had been several offers to purchase the property, but that 4 of the 5 offers involved demolishing the building and that the final offer had expressed no plans for the building. Poole added that two engineering studies had determined that despite concerns that the building was in danger of collapse, it is structurally sound. “It is simply not the case that the building is on the verge of collapse,” Poole said.
Goodsell, the building owner, had instructed his agent to address the issues identified in the April 10 meeting with the city. Although he had received assurances that the work would be done, the property manager did not perform the work.
Poole introduced a study performed by architect Jose Miranda at Goodsell’s request to provide cost estimates on making the needed external improvements. Miranda, who spoke to the CEAB, said that the owner had two options: mothball the structure (do the bare minimum to address concerns) or a full restoration, which would cost $425-500K. Goodsell has opted for full restoration. Miranda said that he has been working with local contractor Clayton Buchanan, who did the restoration work on the train depot, to get a clearer picture of the scope of work for such a project. He added that because of the building boom currently underway, locking in builders and subs for projects sometimes means scheduling 10-14 months out.
CEAB members engaged in discussion with city staff and owner representatives in trying to sort out the various pros and cons to dealing with problems of an historic structure that is not in the Historic District, but which is in the Community Redevelopment Area over which the HDC has design review. There was discussion over whether it would be better to add the property to the Historic District prior to or following the repair work.
Poole requested more time to sort out the problems and develop a plan of action going forward. He expressed fears that if the city exerts too much pressure through hefty fines, Goodsell might be forced to request a demolition permit.
While recognizing the need for time to conduct a full restoration, Forstrom noted that her immediate concern is “for the building not to be an eyesore.” She said that she would like to see progress on the list jointly developed during the April 10 meeting between the owner and the city.
CEAB member Adam Kaufman asked if as a sign of good faith, Goodsell would be willing to move forward to incorporate the building into the downtown historic district. Miranda replied that such action at this time was a “double edged sword.” It would result in additional requirements that would slow any work on the building. Poole also noted Goodsell’s dismay that he had not been notified of the March 15 HDC meeting, during which the council had issued a finding of demolition by neglect.
Rhonda Shaw, owner of Eight Flags Antiques on Centre Street, appeared as a surprise witness. She informed the board that she had expressed interest in the property, but that from a buyer’s perspective, there is nothing to entice people to travel from Centre Street down 2ndStreet to the location. She said that if the city would open the Alachua Crossing, add sidewalks, lighting and landscaping, the area would be more attractive to both potential buyers and customers.
Following almost 2 hours of hearing and discussion, the CEAB decided to give the owner until the next scheduled meeting on June 7 to take care of the vegetative growth and landscaping issues, board up broken windows, and repair or remove downspouts and scuppers. They also asked for a timeline for other actions to be presented at the next meeting to include a solution for the roof and paint/stucco issues.
Should the owner not comply by the June 7 deadline, fines will begin to accrue.
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.