St Michael’s Catholic Church variances receive HDC approval

Submitted by

Susan Hardee Steger

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St Michael’s Catholic Church – Rendering
Jose Miranda, Architect

Architect Jose Miranda appeared before the City of Fernandina Beach Historic District Council (HDC)  March 21 on behalf of St Michael’s Catholic Church to request two variances for the proposed church expansion.  According to Miranda, plans for the addition represent eight months of design work and will increase seating capacity from  289 to 533.  The design was approved conceptually at a previous HDC meeting.

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South view.


Two variances before the HDC are centered on set back issues as a result of the proposed expansion. The adjacent easterly lot involved in the expansion and zoned residential was the location of the former rectory demolished  in 1978.



The first variance request was to increase the height restriction beyond 35 feet (required for residential zoning) to match the roof line of the existing structure.  The second was to reduce the 15 foot residential setback limit on the south side of the proposed structure to 3 1/2 feet.

Catholic Church 3
East view.

According to Senior Planner Adrienne Burke, the design presented without a variance “would likely  not be consistent with Secretary of Interior Standards or the Historic District Design Guidelines.”  Miranda stated that disallowing a variance defeats the purpose of the addition which is to increase the seating capacity.

The final vote for approval of the variances passed 4 – 1 with board member Bruce Meger dissenting.

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Portion of interior view

Approximately 15 individuals attended the meeting.  Four parish members addressed the council.  The concerns among these parishioners ranged from lack of communication within the church regarding the expansion, concern over moving the 125 year old marble alter with an embedded relic of the sacred true cross, and an objection to contemporary windows proposed for the new addition.  HDC members were respectful of the speakers but indicated their charge is to hear two variance’s requests.

One neighboring resident spoke of increased parking demands, and further traffic flow issues as a result of the expansion.  Mirinda acknowledged traffic flow problems especially on Broome do exist.  Parking issues are addressed during the technical review process; a process that will begin at a later date. In the meantime, Miranda  is working with the City to develop  solutions to address parking concerns.

After the variances were approved, the HDC reconsidered the design and granted final approval unanimously.

St Michael’s Catholic Church conducts seven masses  on the weekends.  The expansion will reduce the number of masses.  In the event St Michael’s moves forward with construction, mass will be held at the soon to be completed parish hall on  North 4th and Calhoun Streets.

Editor’s Note:  Jose Miranda is chair of the Historic District Council, but steps down and recuses himself from all cases involving St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

March 25, 2013 9:40 p.m.