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The Little Blue House at 229 South 8th Street

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Little Blue House on South 8th Street

Suanne Thamm

Reporter-News Analyst

Heidi Cormier, potential owner of a modest wood-frame house on the corner of 8th and Cedar Streets, has been working with the City of Fernandina Beach since October 2011, trying to find a way to fulfill her dream of owning a house in town with her hair salon business on the first floor.

The property she found has been vacant and on the market for 3 years. Located in the Fernandina Beach Historic District, it has been zoned commercial (C-2), but was grandfathered into this zoning district as residential, meaning that the structure could continue to be used as a residence or converted to commercial use, but not both.  Could these obstacles be overcome?

After exploring all possibilities, the city’s Community Development Department found a potential solution: change the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) from General Commercial (GC) to Central Business District (CBD) for this parcel and then change the zoning map from General Commercial (C-2) to Central Business District (C-3) for this parcel only. Once this path was the found to be the best option, Ms. Cormier needed to get approval from the Fernandina Beach City Commission via the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) for the changes.

In April 2012, this case came before the PAB for a public hearing and action.  Several issues surfaced on both macro and micro levels.  On the macro level, the questions related to implications for the 8th Street corridor. Should/would such a change apply to all the current general commercial designations along 8th Street? If not, would not this particular case be considered spot re-zoning to provide one property owner with benefits not available to all? And of more immediate interest to Historic District neighbors adjacent to or living nearby on S. 7th Street, changing the zoning of both this property and other 8th Street properties could have a significant impact on street parking in their residential neighborhood. Why would that be so? Current C-2 zoning requires businesses to provide parking on site, while C-3 zoning leaves the parking responsibility to the city (public streets).

Ms. Cormier tried to address the parking concerns by allowing for 7 parking spaces on her property, while promising to require her hair stylists to park off site, but not on the residential streets. While local residents were sympathetic to Ms. Cormier’s situation, they expressed concerns that once the FLUM and zoning changes were made, Ms. Cormier could sell the property to someone else who would not be as willing to compromise. After considering all the testimony and evidence, the PAB endorsed the application, thus moving it to the Fernandina Beach City Commission for a final decision.

At its June 5, 2012 meeting, the City Commission held its second reading on this application and again took public comment. Ms. Cormier stated that in response to 7th Street neighbors’ concerns about traffic, she had downsized her salon operation from 6 workstations to four. She was also working with neighboring commercial property owners to obtain permission for her stylists to park on their property, thus opening up the 7 spaces on the Cormier property for use exclusively of her patrons.  While the two neighbors who spoke expressed the hope that Ms. Cormier would occupy the property and become their neighbor, they continued their opposition to the land use and zoning changes that would open the area to increased parking on residential streets.

Community Development Director Marshall McCrary and City Planner Kelly Gibson explained to the FBCC that their proposed solution was the only legal way to allow Ms. Cormier to live and work in the same building. They went on to say that their office has begun work on an overlay district for 8th Street that would extend the same privilege to other properties fronting on 8th Street south of Centre Street. The overlay district had been previously discussed under the so-called Forward Fernandina plan as a way of making 8th Street a more attractive entrance to the city.

Commissioners expressed a need for urgency on this project. Ms. Gibson was hopeful that with the assistance of some summer interns, a plan might be available for the commission’s review this fall. This plan did not allay concerns of the residents who felt that without the city providing parking in that area, the changes would continue to adversely impact upon S. 7th Street residents.

When the vote was finally taken, the Cormier applications were approved with only Commissioner Pelican dissenting.

As Fernandina Beach continues to attract both new residents and new businesses to the downtown Historic District, there will undoubtedly be more strains on limited street parking. The fact is that the streets belong to everyone, and we all need to share it with our churches, tourists and visitors, too.  Citizens and businesses have been vocal in opposition to parking meters or kiosks, even though such a system is used just south of us in St. Augustine.  At some point we all need to accept the fact that Fernandina Beach was platted and laid out as a city, not a residential subdivision. We never became, as visionary David Levy Yulee intended, the “Manhattan of the South.” But David Levy Yulee never envisioned automobiles replacing horses on our streets, either.  Until that magic solution can be found that makes businesses and residents both happy, we are just going to have to practice patience and civility. Isn’t that part of the small-town charm of living in Fernandina Beach?

June 10, 2012   5:21 p.m.

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