The Citizens Against Runaway Development (“CARD”) filed suit against Nassau County yesterday in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court. The suit seeks to prevent a settlement agreement between Nassau County and Riverstone Properties, LLC, from becoming effective. That agreement was approved (4 to 1) by the Nassau Board of County Commissioners on April 24, 2023. Only Commissioner McCullough dissented.
CARD was formed in response to widespread citizen outrage over runaway development on Amelia Island and the County’s unwillingness to defend itself from developers who threaten litigation. The purpose of the organization is to preserve and protect the natural beauty of Amelia Island.
Under the approved agreement Riverstone would be allowed to build eleven towers at least 85 feet high, despite an existing ordinance limiting such structures to 45 feet. The County has also voluntarily surrendered many important rights to Riverstone, including:
- The right to measure building heights from finished grade, which can be much higher than the existing natural grade.
- Freedom, in perpetuity, from any future county ordinances involving zoning.
- The right to erect at least four lighted billboards (13 feet high) along scenic portions of A1A.
- Freedom, in perpetuity, from any future county ordinances involving tree protection.
- Setbacks for 85-foot towers as narrow as 25 feet from adjacent property lines.
- Tax credits of more than $11,000,000 for donating eight acres of the property which include lowland, wetland, and unbuildable land.
- The right to build within only 20 feet of the state’s Coastal Control Line.
As alleged in CARD’s suit against the County, the agreement constitutes “illegal contract zoning.” Contract zoning is an agreement by a government body with a private landowner to rezone property for consideration. In this case eight acres including lowland and wetland at the south end of the Riverstone property have been offered in exchange for special zoning and development privileges. As alleged in the complaint, secret negotiations between the County Attorney and Riverstone have replaced the normal zoning processes involving the County’s planning staff, impact studies, public notices, public hearings and so forth.
If the suit is successful, it could also stop payment of $250,000 to Riverstone from the County. Nassau County Attorney Denise May recommended that a quarter million dollars be paid to Riverstone to reimburse its attorney’s fees spent taking the County to court. Commissioners Martin, Huppman, Gray and Farmer approved that request, without substantive comment or question, at their meeting on April 24.
The Sanctuary Property Owners’ Association has also joined as a plaintiff in this action.
Anyone interested in learning more about CARD or supporting its efforts can visit the website: CARDAmelia.org.
CARD will endeavor to keep citizens posted concerning all events involving the recently filed suit. The Nassau County government will not do so.