Riverstone: Hard-nosed FAQs from Conservationists

Since announcing the formation of Citizens Against Runaway Development (CARD) we have heard from many concerned citizens. We truly appreciate the amazing level of support from the community at large. Tax-deductible donations have been flowing into www.CARDAmelia.org and P.O. Box 16360, Fernandina Beach, 32035. The widespread interest in preserving the south end of our island has been very encouraging.

The history and future of the Riverstone parcel are complicated. Many have asked some very good questions about how we got here and where we are likely to go.

In the space below we will attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. It is not for us to provide legal advice or even to promise that we have the perfect answers to some complicated questions. Rather, we hope to provide you with some of the best information now available to us.

* * * * * * *

Could Nassau County simply purchase the Riverstone property for permanent conservation?

Such a purchase is extremely unlikely. We would all welcome the entire parcel becoming a county park or being added to the adjacent state park. However, for many reasons, this appears to be little more than wishful thinking.

More than one commissioner has made comments or promises about the county simply purchasing the land. To the best of our knowledge, no substantive negotiations between the county and Riverstone have even begun. No funds have been appropriated and no deal with Riverstone is anywhere near consummation. There is no evidence that any outside sources of funding have been identified to purchase this property.

If there had been any deal for the county to purchase the property, it would have been included in the settlement agreement. That document would have simply stated that the county was purchasing the land, for a specified amount, and all litigation between the county and Riverstone was being dropped. Riverstone would not have been given a green light to build 85+ foot towers or any of the other valuable rights the county conceded.

What are some of the obstacles to purchasing the land for conservation purposes?

In June 2021, Riverstone stated publicly that it had an offer for at least $70 million from a condominium developer. That is far more than any resources currently available to Nassau County for acquiring conservation land.

Last November the voters approved a bond issue for $30 million to purchase conservation land in the county. This came after years of work to get the matter on the ballot. All those funds have now been committed to other parcels in the county. Land in other locations was found to provide greater value for the taxpayers’ money. Although Riverstone was considered in the allocation process, it ranked far below the other alternatives available. The Riverstone parcel is very expensive and relatively small.

That is the essential problem with the government at any level, a private benefactor, or even the North Florida Land Trust acquiring the Riverstone property for conservation purposes. Anyone with $70 million to spend on land conservation is immediately confronted with a robust menu of better places to spend the money. Substantial public acreage can be acquired elsewhere, with more “bang for the buck.” The Riverstone property is only 50 acres, with adjacent parkland and beaches already available.

One speaker at the April 24 commission meeting noted that the Florida legislature was considering appropriating $100 million for land conservation across the entire state. The likelihood that most of those funds could be spent to acquire just 50 acres in Nassau County is very small. There are many other locations where substantially more conservation land could be acquired for fewer dollars.

Could the county use eminent domain to acquire the property?

“Taking” the land through eminent domain is a possibility to be considered. However, the county would still be obliged to compensate Riverstone for the fair value of the land – possibly in the range of $70 million.

What is the best course of action, at this time, to prevent development of 85+ foot towers on the Riverstone property?

Pending unexpected developments, it appears that the best course of action will be to challenge the settlement agreement in court.

Knowledgeable outside counsel has noted that ” … the Proposed Agreement would very clearly be in contravention of law, including illegal contract zoning. This renders the proposed agreement subject to a legal challenge, which would likely succeed.”

Existing statutes give us a limited time to seek help from the courts.

Nobody likes litigation. It is costly and time-consuming. But the county’s total failure to stand up against a large developer leaves concerned citizens little choice.

Can we wait while the county tries to purchase the land?

No. The settlement agreement approved by the county commissioners on April 24 gives Riverstone a fast track to secure the necessary approvals and begin clearing the land.

We have only a limited time to seek relief from the courts. Doing so should not affect any independent efforts to negotiate a purchase of the land. Pending court action may actually facilitate a more reasonable price as Riverstone realistically assesses its prospects before the court.

By agreeing to the settlement, the county may have already damaged its ability to negotiate for purchase of the land. The county has given up substantial leverage by surrendering to Riverstone. By permitting 85+ foot towers and granting other significant concessions to Riverstone, the county has probably increased the value of the land. This may make any future efforts to acquire the parcel even more expensive and difficult.

Could a developer profitably purchase the land and build single-family homes?

Yes, that would appear to be the case. Last year Mike Wilson, a prominent local appraiser, valued the land at more than $70 million if used for single-family residential lots.

Oceanfront lots on the south end of Amelia Island currently sell for $3.2 million or more. With 1,870 feet of ocean frontage, the parcel could support up to 20 such lots. A similar number of lots “across the street” from those on the oceanfront could be sold for approximately $1 million each. The remaining land, along Highway A1A could be donated to the county or state park for an additional tax credit of $10 million or more, as in the settlement agreement.

Large single-family homes, on or near the oceanfront, would be more desirable than towers for many reasons:

  • Fewer than 40 single-family homes, instead of 150 condominium units, would reduce traffic and the need for other public services.
  • The homes could be built within the existing 45-foot height limit.
  • Individual homes could be located on each lot to minimize the need for tree removal. A wall of condominium towers could require clear-cutting a large swath of existing maritime forest nearly 1/3 of a mile long.
  • The resulting homes would be consistent with those already in place on the beach or across the highway at Long Point.
  • Remaining land could be available for donation to the county or state.

Submitted by Lyn Pannone of www.CARDAmelia.org

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

The bitter truth is that the County Commission folded like a house of cards.

I sure do miss Commissioner Steve Kelley.

Chris Whelan
Chris Whelan (@guest_69281)
6 months ago
Reply to  Wes White

They knew long before the meeting that they would vote yes – everything they said during and immediately after was for show. We got nothing but a dog and pony show out of this gang.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
6 months ago

While actively battling the development proposal and searching for potential buyers of the property, we can only hope that the hints the commissioners have given in putting together a purchase option are accurate.

Chris Whelan
Chris Whelan (@guest_69280)
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

They were only trying to put a positive “spin” on what they had just agreed to at the eleventh hour – CYA if you will. I never believed them and will never believe this gang. They are also the ones that said yes to the developer of the RV campground against the wishes of their constituents and their County Planning Board. Sold out would be how I’d spin this.

Cameron M Moss
Cameron M Moss(@cmoss56)
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Discussions with County Officials after the vote revealed that little discussion of substance about the County purchasing the land occurred before the vote. It was the Commission’s own “hail Mary” to placate the public.

Diana Herman
Diana Herman (@guest_69274)
6 months ago

Thank goodness Citizens Against Rapid Development (CARD) has formed to fight for our island. Uncontrolled development is creating more problems than I can list here. We all need to support this movement!

CAMERON MOSS(@cmoss56)
6 months ago

Lyn thank you for sharing these insights with the community.

Sadly, the last minute attempt by the Commissioners to create the smokescreen of working to buy the land was little more than a disingenuous effort to shield themselves from public ridicule. And it had the desired effect of distracting angry citizens with the false hope that the land could be saved and we could avoid costly litigation.

We encourage all citizens of Nassau County and beyond to join Citizens Against Runaway Development (www.CARDAmelia.org) to stay up to date on developments and contribute what time, talent, and finance you can to protect OUR island’s remaining unspoiled places… especially this Riverstone property.

We as citizens have to do what our elected representatives did not.

Last edited 6 months ago by Cmoss56
Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
6 months ago

If the good folks of Fernandina don’t band together and recall all of the crooks in office now from the mayor on down, you’re going to lose your beloved town. There’s more of you all than them. If you keep thinking they are there for you then you’re going to lose. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
6 months ago
Reply to  Bill Fold

Same goes for the Nassau County Commissioners. None of them are on your side.

Chris Whelan
Chris Whelan (@guest_69283)
6 months ago

As soon as the yes vote was recorded the natural habitats on the south end were doomed. There’s no way the developers will not go ahead with this project. The commissioners put on a pretty good show only it wasn’t. Save your false attempts to placate the voters – we see through your act.

SteveDamerow (@guest_69315)
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Whelan

The fact is we need to litigate and constituents of the island need to pony up money for legal efforts !

Talk is cheap.

The fact also remains the the vast county west of the island does not have the same values as island inhabitants and we need to dump representatives that do not reflect our wishes.

When will get off our gentrified, well heeled butts , and rise up against the people that want to destroy our life style?

Wait much longer and it will be too late.

Kathie (@guest_69431)
6 months ago

At the beginning of December 2022 a company that seeks to bring destruction to Pine Island and St. Helena Island requested to have Pine Island removed from the Cultural Protection Overlay District in order to allow them to build a gated resort and golf course that would not only cut off the historic waterway access for the native Gullah/Geechees of St. Helena Island, but would also remove the forested area of this barrier island which has protected larger St. Helena Island for generations. 

Read the article in the web address for more information on how the land was protected.