Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 20, 2016 4:15 p.m.



The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) during its October 18, 2016 Regular Meeting, approved on First Reading and somewhat reluctantly four ordinances that open the way for a Planned Unit Development on 24 acres of land located on the southwest corner of 14th and Lime Streets. The Ordinances were approved on a 4-1 vote, with Mayor John Miller in opposition. Controversy has dogged the development for two years because of environmental concerns over filling wetlands and changing density requirements.

While some citizens strongly opposed development because it would require wetlands to be filled snd therefore run afoul of city policy opposing such action, others claimed that the wetlands were low-grade, currently giving rise to stagnant water and mosquito breeding grounds. The potential developer planned to build 260 units on the property, with monthly rents for the smaller units starting at $1,000, thereby meeting longstanding community demands for affordable, moderate income housing on the island.

As a result of commission action, initial approval has been given for the following actions:

  • Annexing into the city the portion of the property (9.26 acres) located in Nassau County;
  • Vacation of the S. 12th Street unopened public right-of-way totaling approximately 865 linear feet between Lime Street and Nectarine Street;
  • Approving the Large Scale Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Amendments that would result in approximately 22.4 acres as High Density Residential (HDR) and 2.0 acres as General Commercial (GC);
  • Approving zoning map changes that would result in approximately 22.2 acres as High Density Residential (R-3) and 2.0 acres as General Commercial (C-2) and a PUD Overlay for the entire 24.2 Acres.

The ordinances will require a Second Reading and public hearing before they can be given final approval.

The Dilemma

Aerial view of 14th and Lime property
Aerial view of 14th and Lime property

The subject property is currently undeveloped. What has made the property unique is that it lay partially in the City of Fernandina Beach and partially in unincorporated Nassau County. Each jurisdiction has different policies on filling wetlands.

As required by state law when jurisdictions share a piece of property, the matter was referred to the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) for a ruling. They approved the proposed development, supporting an earlier ruling by a special magistrate regarding jurisdictional authority.

Subsequent to the SJRWMD ruling, the developer’s agent Spurgeon Richardson offered to reconfigure the project to minimize impact on wetlands, provided that he would still be allowed to build the same number of units on the property. In order for this to happen, the developer wanted to be able to transfer the total density allowed for the parcel to the uplands portion of the property.

During previous public meetings many citizens expressed outrage over what appeared to be the city’s willingness to violate its own policy on filling wetlands to appease a developer’s desire to maximize allowable density under current rules. They maintained that even if his request was denied, he could still develop the property.

The developer countered by saying that since the SJRWMD had already approved a plan allowing him to fill what they regarded as low-grade wetlands, he could just proceed with that plan. However, by offering his alternative plan, he was trying to be sympathetic to the desires of the community.

Top plan
Top plan saves more wetlands.

While many citizens held strong opinions that the city should be willing to risk a lawsuit and ignore the SJRWMD determination, not everyone agreed. The odds of the city’s prevailing in such a lawsuit were not high, given the two previous independent rulings.

Commission discussion

dscn7712Mayor John Miller expressed confusion over the proposed ordinances, asking if it was not the case that the city’s policy did not permit filling wetlands. Commissioners, the City Attorney and City staff recapped events for Miller’s benefit. Even after extensive discussion over the legal and other ramifications of the city’s failure to approve the items before them, Miller said he could not approve actions that violated the city’s policy against filling wetlands.

Attorney Clinch Kavanaugh addresses FBCC.
Attorney Clinch Kavanaugh addresses FBCC.

Commissioner Len Kreger also raised the possibility of the developer paying the city for the vacated portion of S. 12th Street between Lime and Nectarine Streets. Both City Attorney Tammi Bach and the developer’s legal counsel Clinch Kavanaugh cited both state law and local precedence for not imposing a cost for a vacated right-of-way. In such case, the right-of-way is usually treated like an easement and the land reverts to the adjoining property owner(s).

With Miller dissenting, the four ordinances passed on First Reading.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.

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Mac Morriss
Mac Morriss(@macmorrisshotmail-com)
6 years ago

The top plan saves some wetlands and green space areas. Even though it will cost the developer more to implement this plan, the developer offered this compromise. Otherwise, the developer could use the already approved SJRWMD plans and only have a few drainage ponds. Then fight the City with a lawsuit which the City is likely to lose. Looks like a win-win compromise. Those wetlands, from my sources, are manmade wetlands of dubious water quality, runoff water from streets.

Michelle Pickar
Michelle Pickar (@guest_48051)
6 years ago

I am assuming the smaller unit described in the article is a one-bedroom unit. How does anyone consider $1000/mo for a one-bedroom apartment affordable housing? We have young families and seniors that are wait-listed for years in various apartment complexes around the city and they could not begin to afford that. I would ask the city to negotiate that 25% of the units be held for income-based applicants at lower rental costs. It seems to me that the developer is sensitive to the community and now would be the time to broach this subject.

Frank Aquino
Frank Aquino (@guest_48060)
6 years ago

Affordable housing turns into Section 8 housing. Do we want to concentrate that type of housing between 10 steel and Citrona and Jasmine and Lime. Everyone will make money on this, the bank, the developer and in a few years whoever takes it over.
We will create our own Island Ghetto hidden right in the middle of the Island.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben (@guest_48062)
6 years ago

Beg to differ with Mr. Aquino – Section 8 designation is only achieved by application on the part of the owner/landlord. Would certainly agree with Michelle Pickar’s point. Since when is $1000.00 per month rent “affordable”? One of my kids lives here on the island and works full time. She could not afford that. Like many in her age and at the beginning stages of her professional career, nobody else she knows can afford that. Suggestion we should embrace this project because it allows folks in the “service” industry to live here is not accurate. Would dare say that a young EMT, fire or police cadet and their family would be faced with an equally difficult equation particularly if they needed more than a 1 bedroom. I think that folks on the island either do not understand actual wages and salaries here in our community or they simply do not want to make room for that understanding.

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