Citizen Group Forms to Sue Riverstone — If Need Be

Citizens Against Runaway Development

A new non-profit, Citizens Against Runaway Development (CARD), has been organized to oppose the proposed Riverstone condominium project on behalf of Nassau County residents. CARD said it would begin fundraising efforts to pay for legal representation.

Lyn Pannone, one of CARD’s organizers, provided the Observer with a press release titled “Riverstone Development: a plan for Community Action” announcing the formation of the group and its goals.

“This entity is intended to coordinate and represent the actions of concerned citizens,” the release stated.

The announcement listed five activities for CARD.

–Soliciting the views of people concerned about the Riverstone development.

–Retaining experienced land use and litigation counsel to provide objective advice regarding possible actions to be taken.

–Initiating legal action, as necessary and appropriate.

–Keeping the citizens of Nassau County informed of developments as they occur.

–Working with the county and Riverstone toward a resolution satisfactory to the citizens.

The CARD founders said that in anticipation of legal action that may be needed to halt Riverstone’s condo tower development, the group projects roughly $125,000 will be needed for attorney costs. The group said it has already received pledges of $60,000.

Last Monday, the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners by a 4-1 vote approved a settlement agreement with Riverstone for the development. But later, some commissioners explained the action was taken to resolve legal actions and so the county could begin negotiations to purchase the $50 million parcel from Riverstone.

“Riverstone has been granted everything it requested, plus $250,000 of taxpayer money. Today Riverstone is free to submit its plans for clearing the land and building towers on the south end of our island. It has all the green lights necessary to proceed rapidly with development,” the CARD announcement stated.

CARD has a website at www.CARDAmelia.org

Any funds that are not expended by CARD will be donated for land conservation, tree replacement and conservation efforts primarily in Nassau County.

Other founding members of CARD include Creighton ‘Corky’ Hoffman, Cameron Moss and Tony Smeraglinolo.

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Wes White
Wes White(@wes-white)
10 months ago

For governance reasons, perhaps it’s time for the whole island to be annexed by the City of Fernandina Beach.

The Casual Observer
The Casual Observer(@betsie-huben)
10 months ago
Reply to  Wes White

How would that benefit the residents of the unincorporated neighborhoods throughout Amelia Island?

Peggy Bulger
Peggy Bulger(@peggy-bulger1949gmail-com)
10 months ago

Joining the city would provide sewer service for one (desperately needed on a barrier island), and a voice in elections for local representation, and not being held hostage by Nassau County Commission, a body which seems to be held in thrall to developers and major interests in the western side of the county.

Anonymous
Anonymous(@debbrasullivanaol-com)
10 months ago
Reply to  Peggy Bulger

No easy answer as the new current city commission so far looks to be developer friendly and directed by a questionable new group headed by Mr. Knocke

Jason Collins
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
10 months ago
Reply to  Wes White

South end residents especially the Ritz and OMNI most likely would not voluntarily annex and pay an additional 5 mils in property taxes. The cost of sewer lines into all the existing communities without public sewer would be a huge cost per household as well (American Beach for example).

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
10 months ago
Reply to  Wes White

There is no guarantee that city commissioners would be open to conservation, either, in the future. What we need is for conservation-minded people to recruit and robustly support candidates that will protect the island’s natural beauty and resiliency. You get who you vote for.

Tim Walker
Tim Walker (@guest_68874)
10 months ago

Good luck with that. You might as well take that money and throw it in the Amelia river. Instead you should take the money you raise and buy the Tringali property.….

Taylor
Taylor (@guest_68875)
10 months ago

One arm Bob would swim in circles.

Doug Jones
Doug Jones (@guest_68878)
10 months ago

A little History on Riverstone Properties proposed development (formally known as PLM East)
Development proposals for this tract of land pops up time and again…… starting back in the late 1970’s Charles Fraser acquired much of the land on the South half of Amelia Island from Union Carbide and ‘saved’ it from being strip mined. In the early 1980’s, Charles Frasers Sea Pines project, Amelia Plantation, had a Master plan prepared (which included the Plantation (most of which is now Omni Resort), what is now Long Point, Summer Beach etc). As the Plantation development evolved and the economy took a downturn, the property that was later to be developed as Summer Beach to the North and a huge tract on the South end was split off and sold by the banks. Then a large portion of the South end property was purchased by PLM Associates. The portion east of A-1-A became known as PLM East and the other side of A-1-A was PLM West.
During the ensuing years other residential projects were developed between the Plantation and the subject property. (ie: Dunes Club, The Sanctuary, The Residence etc). We (County Planning Dept) met with the PLM owners at the time and they agreed to sell the County the Southern tip of the Island for preservation to be used as a Beach Park. The County being short of funds, we (County Planning Dept) prepared a grant application for the purchase. As the application was making its way thru Tallahassee red tape, a prominent local atty got involved and the State ended up acquiring the property (for a much larger sum) also to be preserved as a park (but State not County).
A short time after, approximately 1985, Amelia Island Plantation wanted to acquire the parcel known as PLM West in order to develop what is now Long Point area. The Plantation developers also wanted to ‘shift’ some residential density around within the Plantation and the owners of PLM wanted some assurances for later development of PLM East. County Planning staff also wanted some assurances and thought it a better process to look at the entire area rather than piecemeal, so the County and the joint owners/developers agreed to prepare a Planned Unit Development (PUD) Master Development Plan for portions of the Plantation, PLM West and PLM East. The best part of this multi-developer plan, was we looked at the area as a whole and could plan accordingly. After numerous public hearings, modifications, tweaks etc., the joint PUD Master Plan was approved. This allowed Amelia Island Plantation to do some density and other modifications within their existing property, and set height, density and land uses on both PLM East and West. It also required that PLM East dedicate to the County a swath of land adjacent to the Sanctuary development for public beach access, parking and dune walkover. PLM East was not proposed for immediate development, but their density, land uses, heights etc were established and agreed upon and we thought ‘set in stone’…… The dune walkover and parking were to be constructed by the developer/owner and then dedicated to the County for public beach access. If you look at a current aerial photo of the property you can see remnants of the dune walkover that the developer constructed that was to be dedicated to the County…. We came that close.
A little tidbit from our County Recorded deeds:
PLM West was conveyed to Long Point in 1985 (per County Tax records). Then in 1997, a paper shuffle between PLM Assoc, Georgia Tech Foundation and various individuals( many of which were on the selling and buying ends of the equation) began and the 50 +/- acres changed hands multiple times for as little as $100 (per Nassau County public records – deeds). In this shell game, what was probably a ‘tax shuffle’, the most recent ‘high’ valuation to the current owner(s) was recorded as a sale in 1999 for two million and the next two recordings were a Warranty Deed and a Quit Claim deed to the current owner(s) in 2001 for $100.00. If you use the ‘values’ on the recorded instruments (what the sellers sold for and buyers show as purchased price), the loss in value the current owner claims due to height restrictions is a bit dubious.
A short time after the Development Orders were approved, behind the scenes politics got involved and there was discussion about moving the public access from the north end of PLM East to the southerly border, adjacent to the new State Park property. These backroom deals were being conducted when all of the ‘end the driving on the beach’ issues were going on. As staff changed at the County Planning Dept (I left), there was no one remaining to adequately monitor the development orders that were in effect (my opinion) and the County never received the dedication of the public beach access.
Early on, the County Planning staff worked with the Corps of Engineers to determine the minimum distance between public access points to the beach so we would not jeopardize COE financial assistance for beach renourishment. A determination was made that public access points should occur at approximately one-half mile intervals. We made every effort in negotiating with the various beachfront developers to obtain or expand public access, with adequate parking, at approximate half mile intervals. If interested, I can provide more details on the expanded beach access we obtained through the years. With the exception of the over two miles across Amelia Plantation between American Beach Park and the small access point (Access 110) adjacent to Amelia Retreat Condos, we were successful in achieving our goals. That is if the PLM East public access is ever dedicated. If it is not acquired, then the gap between the small access No. 110 and the north boundary of the State Park will approximately one mile without public access.
Now jump ahead a few years….. still no dedication of the (required by the PUD Development Order) public beach access. Keep in mind, this was not just a requirement of development of PLM East. It was a requirement of the joint development order, which dedication of the public beach access should have taken place when any of the rest of the development proceeded. It is clear that Long Point has been developed and most if not all of the changes the Plantation proposed were accomplished.
The next thing that happened….. the owner(s) of the PLM East tract met with our part time County Atty/part time private atty and the part time County Atty appeared before the County Commission and recommended on behalf of the owner/developer that because the PLM East tract had not commenced development, he recommended/advised to the County Commission that the PUD Development Order for PLM East be vacated. They voted…’POOF’ it was gone. I’m still not sure if he was speaking out of his ‘part-time County atty’ side of his mouth or the ‘part-time private atty’ side. This was accomplished without due public notice, without filing a modification to the joint development order, no zoning change, no-one knew this was taking place. In my opinion, this was totally without merit and possibly/probably not legal… it definitely did not follow any requirements for modification of a PUD development order that were currently adopted by the County as part of the Development/Zoning Code. While it is true, that no physical development had taken place on the PLM East parcel. Other than the beach walkover construction, which was never dedicated (the owners were too busy doing favorable tax exchanges amongst themselves). The development order was in fact activated with development on the other portions of the joint PUD, which in fact triggered the requirement for the public beach access dedication. Basically, the way the 3-way development order (contract) worked was the owners/developers could do this and that on their individual parcels but ONLY if the conditions and requirements on the other parcels were met.  I am actually not sure that the PUD for the PLM East portion is actually (legally) dissolved as it definitely did not follow rule of law (not being an atty that is my personal opinion). Of course, if the PUD development order is not dissolved, the dedication should still take place and there are already land use, height and density allocations still in place for the PLM East / Riverstone 50+/- acre as the conditions and development controls run with the land from owner to owner.
It is my opinion that the County or a third party dig out the Joint Development Order, find whatever action the County Commission took to dissolve the PLM East portion and see where we stand on this issue….. At very least we should get the public beach access as it was a requirement before any shenanigans by our ex-part time atty attempted to dissolve the Development Order. It would also show what stipulations were in existence when the current owner(s) acquired the property. We are still dealing with some of the original owners, I believe, even after all the paperwork shuffling.
Disclaimer: Just to be clear…. none of the above is intended to be a legal opinion, I simply compiled the information to provide the background as I recollect it.
Hope this is helpful.
Doug Jones
————————
My Background: I was employed at the Jacksonville Area Planning Board from about 1971/2 to mid 1974 during which time I assisted in the contract with Nassau County to prepare a Land Use Plan, Zoning Atlas and the County’s first adopted Zoning Code (Adopted Sept 1974). Nassau County Commission hired me in 1974 as the County’s first Planning and Zoning Director. A position I held for over 20 years. During that time, we (my staff, Planning Board members and others) worked with the developers of Summer Beach, Amelia Plantation and numerous developments and developers. Among many other things I was able to accomplish, I was instrumental in ‘encouraging‘ the developers to provide and/or enlarge public beach accesses along the coast of Amelia Island.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_68887)
10 months ago
Reply to  Doug Jones

While the property developers, over 30 years, traded ownership among themselves, it appears that they did not do a deep dive into some of the underlying documents that would have been uncovered in a routine title search. Or – maybe they just didn’t make the effort to read the documents in detail. In any event, it appears that there are some long-outstanding issues that may cloud title to the property.

1- Could the County place a lien on the property if they don’t comply with the conditions of the PUD and dedicate the beach access? Could they prevent construction activities anywhere near the proposed beach access?

2- Were the zoning and other changes to the PUD properly/legally approved by the County? This issue alone could be tied up in state courts for years.

Developers may (eventually) be able to build an 85 foot tower, but good luck trying to sell condos to future buyers if there are unresolved legal and financial issues with the land underneath their homes.
Definitely looks like a job for the real estate lawyers.