Developer Reaches Back into History, Looking for an Angle

By Mike Lednovich

Property owner Worthy Investments wants to turn back the clock on land records dating to the 1850s in Fernandina Beach so it can take three neighborhood lots on South Fourth Street and build nine townhomes on the property.

Worthy Investments has applied for a variance from city codes that prohibit subdividing of lots where a house or structure was built on two adjoining parcels as identified in the city’s original platting of land in 1857 by David Yulee.

The three homes, built in the 1950s, have already been demolished by the builder Compass Group.

A hearing to consider the variance by the city’s Board of Adjustment is scheduled Wednesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

“If granted the variance, the effect would be the separation of the three (3) current parcels into nine (9) platted lots of record capable of supporting one single-family unit each,” stated the city’s Planning Department report regarding the variance application.”

In its application letter to the city, Worth Investments said, “It is our intent to create up to one unit per 25-foot wide platted lot allowed for a mix of townhome development, using the 25-foot platted lots for fee simple ownership of a single-family residence.”

The lots were formerly owned by the Tringali family and sold to developers. Last year, the city commission, ignoring provisions of the Land Development Code, voted to allow Tringali lots on South Third and Fourth streets to be subdivided for townhouses. That decision was overturned by a Nassau County judge after a lawsuit by adjacent homeowners to the property. That ruling is now being appealed.

Here is the argument by the neighboring property owners:

“Underlying lots of record mean re-establishing Yulee’s vision of a metropolis with plats of 25-foot wide lots downtown. These lots are directly across from the homes often held for generations in the historic district on Fourth Street. What will set future precedence in the city?” asked Julie Ferreira, one of the leaders of the Stop The Domino effect.

“Will the future of Fernandina follow the recent changes of South 7th Street and install Yulee’s (1857) vision (of 25-foot lots), or will 1.03.05, which was added to the Land Development Code to protect the ambience of the city from being over-built be upheld?” she asked.

“All residents have standing (in the variance hearing), she said, “because this affects the downtown area, and perhaps could even have wider ripples throughout the city since Yulee’s 25-foot lots often stretch as far as 14th Street.”

Worthy Investments faces a difficult task in convincing the Board of Adjustment to grant the variance.

In the city staff analysis of the merits of the application, there are six criteria that are required to be met. City staff in its report cited only three criteria of merit.

City staff said: “Granting the variance will not be in harmony with the general intent and purpose of the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan. Both the LDC and Comp Plan emphasize the preservation of … open space, visual corridors, and neighborhood character, however restoration of the 25′ wide lots is inconsistent with the development pattern of the neighborhood.

“Granting the variance is not compatible with the surrounding properties, will cause injury to the area involved, or otherwise be detrimental to the public health, safety, welfare, or environment. 25’ wide lots would severely limit the type of dwelling able to be built resulting in a much more uniform block face than what is consistent or the subject neighborhood and the Comprehensive Plan and LDC. Additionally, a narrower dwelling typically necessitates a taller structure, which will drastically reduce the established visual corridors.

“Literal interpretation of the Land Development Code would not deprive the applicant of rights enjoyed by others in the same zoning district. A literal reading of the LDC would not prevent the applicant from developing each of the 3 parcels in a way that is consistent with the R-2 zoning district and the surrounding built environment.

“The requested variance is inconsistent with 3 of the 6 criteria for granting a variance,” the analysis concluded.

According to the city staff report, granting the variance will require a supermajority (4 of the 5 members) voting to approve the application.

On question six of the application, Public Interest, the Compass Groups said granting the variance “is compatible with surrounding properties, will not cause injury to the area involved, or otherwise be detrimental to the public health, safety, welfare or environment. Granting this variance for use of the underlying 25′ wide lots would be compatible with the surrounding properties, as it will follow similar development in the area being granted use of the same.

“Additionally, the development under the LDC site development requirements will not be detrimental to the public health, safety, welfare, or environment; it will result in infill development supporting the site development rules of improving infrastructure (sidewalks, community street parking, stormwater system of self-storage, underground power, etc.), and furthering the continued economic growth, expanding the tax base of the community.”

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Noble Member
8 days ago

I am not in favor of granting variances to increase density!

Noble Member
8 days ago

This variance should not be granted. That’s what they do….as soon as one such case is approved, they can use that as the basis for their variance. Suddenly, it’s not so incompatible with the neighborhood, when there are other examples of this. Stand your ground and stop the domino effect!!! David Yulee had a vision…let’s not undo all of his hard work over almost 200 years! His vision of Utopia is looking pretty good from where I stand.
Perhaps we should not keep in office, or elect, commissioners so willing to ignore the Land Use code on this small island of ours?!!

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 days ago

A broader question is why developers constantly file and expect to be granted variances in our codes and planning documents. A lot of work and good reasons go into creating those planning documents, and they are much too often overridden for developers. We need to create a culture of abiding by our city and county plans, and it should be very difficult to overturn them. That begins by electing commissioners who are not part of the good old boy network and are not in the pockets of developers, and especially who are not developers themselves.

8 days ago

Not much different than RYAM trying to leverage the good old boy system by sneaking around behind the scenes to build an ethanol refinery in the center of downtown Fernandina Beach. It is all about greed.

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
8 days ago

Stand up for our code of ordinances or be prepared to have it go down for any and all variances requested.

Trusted Member
8 days ago

2024 can be a change election. We will be electing the majority of the commission in November. If we’re smart, we’ll vote for those people who will work to save Fernandina, not to benefit themselves.

Trusted Member
6 days ago

Don’t destroy our neighborhood!

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