Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
It was a standing room only crowd as Fernandina Beach Mayor Arlene Filkoff gaveled to order the September 4, 2012 regular meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission. While the meeting agenda contained several meaty topics relating to franchise fees, farmers market and Forward Fernandina, it was clear that the public had come in hope of expressing views regarding a possible annexation of Sandpiper Beach homes into the city. This item had been placed on the agenda as a presentation, not an action item. It was the consensus of the commission not to take public input during the meeting. This decision led to considerable grumbling from many audience members who seemed to have come prepared to express their opposition to the proposal, which appeared similar to an effort defeated by a previous city commission in 2008.
The annexation application was submitted on August 12, 2012, by a consortium of property owners that include the Sandpiper Beach Homes development, Villas of Ocean Dunes and single-family homes north of the Villas of Ocean Dunes. On August 20, 2012 city commissioners received a letter from an anti-annexation group opposing this application because it would mandate involuntary annexation of many property owners as well.
Marshall McCrary, Community Development Department Director, outlined the key elements of the proposal for benefit of the commissioners and the public. The area proposed for annexation into the city consists of 14.27 acres east of South Fletcher Avenue, south of the current city boundary and north of Peter’s Point. The area is comprised of 53 properties, representing 36 townhomes, 4 villa properties, 11 single-family lots (9 developed, 2 vacant) and 2 narrow strip lots owned by adjoining lot owners. While a petition indicates that a clear majority of the affected property owners supports the annexation, support is clearly not unanimous.
Florida Statutes (Chapter 171) state that all municipal annexations must meet certain criteria (land must be contiguous to the city and compact; annexation may not create an enclave). Voluntary annexations may occur when all property owners in the proposed area have petitioned to be included. When support for such an action is not unanimous, the city may annex by referendum. Such a procedure begins with the adoption of an annexation ordinance requiring 2 public hearings. But the ordinance is not effective until such time as a referendum has been approved.
The referendum must allow the registered voters of the area proposed to be annexed. In this case, the voters must be Nassau County registered voters. The city may choose to provide for a separate referendum among the registered voters of the city as well. If either of the referendums fails, the ordinance is not effective and the annexation attempt fails. A reconsideration of the failed annexation may not be considered for a period of 2 years following the date of the referendum.
McCrary reminded commissioners that when this matter was last considered in 2008, there was strong community interest voiced during the public hearings on the proposed annexation ordinance. The two issues that raised the most concern were the involuntary annexation of properties whose owners in at least one case filed a legal challenge to stop the action; and the elimination of beach driving in front of the newly annexed properties.
Should the city commission approve an annexation ordinance for this area, it could be placed on the November 2013 ballot, or the city could choose to conduct a special election that would cost around $15,000. However, before an ordinance is prepared many steps must be taken to ensure that all elements of Florida law are satisfied. Because of the investment of city money and staff time in moving forward with an annexation ordinance, McCrary was seeking direction from the city commission before moving ahead.
Commissioner Tim Poynter opined that petitioners were just asking for the right to vote to join the city. The audience loudly reacted with shouts of “No!” Mayor Filkoff gaveled the meeting to order. Commissioner Sarah Pelican claimed that Mr. Thomas Gambino, representative of the petitioners, claimed to have support from 3 commissioners. She said she had never met with him. Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch said he had also not met with Gambino. Mayor Filkoff said that she had not met with petitioners until this afternoon. Commissioner Poynter said that he had met with them over the course of a year and a half. In response to a comment from Poynter, Bunch said that he has supported voluntary annexations when property owners tie in to city water and sewer.
City Manager Joe Gerrity asked commissioners to bring their questions on this issue to Marshall McCrary so that they might be prepared to make a decision to proceed or not with crafting an annexation ordinance at the September 18, 2012 regular city commission meeting. The audience was advised that public input would be taken at that meeting. Following the 20-minute discussion on this topic, Mayor Filkoff called for a break so that the room could be cleared before proceeding with the remainder of the meeting.
September 5, 2012 2:26 p.m.