Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 9, 2017 1:03 p.m.
Would you prefer to live a block away from Industrial zoned property as opposed to Central Business District? Would you mind backing up to property that looked more like warehouses and manufacturing or to activities more like those found on Centre Street? These are questions being pondered by North Side Historic District property owners, residents and their elected representatives.
At their May 2, 2017 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) considered four ordinances to change land use and zoning for properties extending from the corner of North 2nd and Broome Streets on First Reading, approving them on a 4-1 vote, with only Vice Mayor Len Kreger dissenting. The FBCC’s approval followed a similar vote by the city’s Planning Advisory Board and a recommendation to approve from city planning staff.
Five property owners—Robert and Loretta Erickson, James and Kerston Clayton, Courtney McCranie, Daniel McCranie, Sr. and Marilyn Leibman–have requested via 4 separate applications both a land use change and that their properties be rezoned Central Business District (C-3) from their current Industrial (I-1) zoning. There are residential structures on the properties located at 205 and 211 Broome Street and 224 North 2nd Street, as well as parcels of vacant property between the structures at Broome and North 2nd Streets.
Ronald “Chip” Ross, 210 North 3rd Street, has consistently opposed the applications, alleging violations of state law and the city’s Comprehensive Plan. He claims that neither the applicants nor the staff have provided competent substantial evidence to support expansion of the Central Business District. He also cites lack of evidence that the staff has analyzed the city’s ability to provide or maintain an adequate water supply to the area.
Although there are four separate ordinances before the FBCC that would change land use and zoning for several individually platted lots of record, together they form one contiguous area encompassing roughly half of the north side of Broome Street between North 2nd and 3rd Streets and half the east side of North 2nd Street between Broome and Calhoun Streets.
Under the current Industrial zoning, residential use of the land is not permitted. In addition to what one might reasonably assume could be included in an industrially zoned area, under city zoning that area could also be used as an adult entertainment area or a location for communication towers. Central Business District (C-3) is what governs commercial activities found in the Centre Street area: primarily office, retail, restaurant, hotel and residential. [For a complete listing of allowed uses and those allowed under special circumstances, consult the city’s Land Development Code, available on the city’s website www.fbfl.us.]
Broome Street properties
The Ericksons and the Claytons, who represent the Broome Street properties, requested the change in order to correct existing non-conforming use of the properties where two single-family homes have existed for many years. The property at 211 Broome Street has retained its single-family home use as a grandfathered use. The property located at 205 Broome Street has remained vacant and in a deteriorating state for several years.
Under the City’s LDC Section 10.01.02 (G), when a non-conforming use has been discontinued for a period greater than 180 days, the property shall be brought into compliance with all sections of the LDC. The current property owners recently acquired the structure in order to restore it. At this time, they are seeking to use the property for residential purposes. In order to make this property conforming, a land use and zoning designation, which contains residential density, must be applied to the site.
The properties to the west of the restored structure are vacant. All four parcels involved with the applicants’ request are within the City’s Amelia River Waterfront Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). The existing residential properties look out onto the city’s Broome Street parking lot.
North 2nd Street properties
The three property owners jointly requested action to correct existing non-conforming use of the properties where a multi-family residential structure has existed for many years at 224 N. 2nd Street. This property faces a port warehouse building. The vacant lots located to the south of the multi-family structure are anticipated for infill development. All three properties involved with the applicants’ request are within the City’s Amelia River Waterfront Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). As such, any future structures constructed on the vacant properties must comply with LDC provisions specific to CRA properties.
According to city staff, the applicant’s requested action serves to address the long term redevelopment strategy and for future infill opportunities in the CRA which serve to extend the urban development pattern leading from downtown to the port. The requested Central Business District (CBD) land use category and C-3 zoning district serves to create a transitional step down the land use pattern from General Commercial and Industrial to the adjoining Residential areas.
Some have questioned the city’s approach to solving what appear to be legitimate problems of the property owners.
At the February 8, 2017 PAB meeting, Chair Mark Bennett voted against changes in land use and zoning for the Broome Street properties, expressing concern over the possibility of large-scale development to the north. Minutes of the March 8, 2017 PAB meeting recorded that Chair Bennett voiced that he did not support this change and commented about leap frogging according to section 1.02.03(D). City Attorney Tammi Bach expressed that this was not spot zoning. Chair Bennett continued his comments with regards to transitional zoning, step down zoning and density restrictions within the CRA.
A nearby resident and former PAB member, Dr. Ronald J. “Chip” Ross, expressed strong opposition to the proposed actions during the FBCC’s First Reading of the ordinances on May 2, 2017. Using a series of slides Ross articulated his concerns over legal issues and perceived Comprehensive Plan violations. He presented the FBCC with a binder that appeared to be about 6 inches thick containing what he considered pertinent documents for their ruling. The documents, all public records, were not also provided to the applicants.
Ross, the only member of the public to express opposition to the proposed changes, said that his concerns had been heightened by the recently approved density changes within the Central Business District (C-3). He claimed that neither the city nor the applicants had provided “competent, substantial evidence” to indicate why the Central Business District needed to be expanded and failed to provide an analysis showing that existing water and sewer infrastructure was adequate to support the changes.
When the FBCC voted on all four ordinances, only Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who also previously served on and chaired the Planning Advisory Board, opposed the actions. When asked for comment on his vote, Kreger emailed: “My concern is that the applicant asked to rezone to Residential and the City recommended Central Business. The property is contiguous to Medium Density Residential, not the Central Business District. The City recommended CBD. When the application and the other 2nd Street application were submitted the [CBD] density was 8, but the first reading of the density increase had been passed. I do not like the potential for the prosperity in the CBD.”
Should the FBCC approve the changes at a future meeting, their decision is subject to appeal.
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.