When will we strive for resiliency? – An opinion

By Amelia Tree Conservancy
Board of Directors
November 1, 2021

Update: The county Planning Department is requesting that the Planning and Zoning Board postpone this item until the November 16 meeting.

The Board of Directors and members of Amelia Tree Conservancy are concerned about R21-002, the application for an increase in density for 4820 First Coast Hwy. This item is on the Nassau County Planning and Zoning Board agenda for Tuesday, Nov. 2 and on the agenda of the Board of County Commissioners for the Nov. 8 meeting. If granted, the density will allow 13 residences. Owners previously applied for a density increase in July of 2020. This is happening at the same time commercial development is in process just across the street on the west side of A1A.

The rationale provided by the Department of Planning in their support of this application is that the density of surrounding properties justifies consistency with that density. That might make sense if we were in a rural area. However, we are located on an environmentally sensitive barrier island at a time when we need to be preparing for climate change and sea level rise. Despite the County’s own data and efforts of the state to encourage coastal areas to plan for resiliency, we are still applying planning practices that are inappropriate for this context, practices that destroy the protections that experts are recommending: retention and conservation of wooded parcels as part of a natural approach to resiliency to support stormwater processing, temperature moderation and other functions of our trees. When we increase density on a barrier island, we need to be looking at the environmental consequences. We no longer have sufficient undeveloped land to compensate for such actions. The report lacks any consideration of this reality or our future.

In recent years, Nassau County has approved a number of developments that have greatly degraded the character of the island. Functional buffers including Right Of Way and the undeveloped parcels behind them that once blocked the view of many developments are being decimated by the development of those parcels behind the ROW or commercial development of the parcel along A1A or the Parkway. An example is in process directly across A1A from 4820 First Coast Hwy. The increasing number of these developments has degraded the character (“sense of place”) of the island. Not only does this destroy the aesthetics, but it will also severely impact the economy. This causation has been documented in research by Edward McMahon and other researchers. Such degradation will result in a decline in property values, the desirability of the island as a residence or a place to visit, and hence a decline in business and tourism, with associated loss of County revenue. The County is dependent on the island for the largest portion of its tax revenue and tourism is our largest industry. According to Gil Langley, tourism on Amelia Island is totally based on our environment. Destruction of that sense of place will greatly reduce the revenue of that industry.

Destruction of the trees on this parcel will increase our vulnerability to heat island effect (“islands” of increased heat in relation to surrounding areas that result from development), flooding, wind damage and erosion. We live on a barrier island with finite limitations. Development beyond the carrying capacity destroys the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the island and precludes resiliency. The unincorporated part of the island is surprisingly close to being completely built out. When will we apply existing knowledge to maintaining and improving our resiliency and sustainability? Will we kick the can down the road until the costs are too exorbitant?

Board of Directors
Amelia Tree Conservancy
Berta Arias, Arthur Herman, Diana Herman, Kristin Huben, Russell Jahn, Margaret Kirkland,
Lyn Pannone, Rebecca Raymond and Cheryl Witt


Considerations for Our Future

Failure to consider our location on a barrier island and environmental impacts: We live on a barrier island that is primarily environmentally sensitive land. Based on the County’s Vulnerability Study, it is highly vulnerable to storms, storm surge and sea level rise. Complete buildout of the island is dangerous and a threat to our resiliency and sustainability. It is essential that climate change, sea level rise and other currently existing data, as well as research on the most effective strategies for building resiliency (natural approaches), be thoroughly integrated into our planning. According to experts, the longer we wait, the more exorbitant the costs.

Negative impact on our future economy and tax base as a result of loss of sense of place/character: Research has documented the importance of the character of a location (its “sense of place”) on its future economy. We are concerned about the dramatic changes that have taken place on Amelia Island in terms of a) the extent of development, b) the lack of consideration of development on the character of the island and its desirability as a place to visit or live, c) the cheap-looking developments that impact the character, and d) the loss of buffers that previously prevented casual visitors from seeing the extent and nature of development—development along A1A and the Parkway that is either on the road or that reduces the effectiveness of the ROW buffers.

Increased density with no compensatory open space: The basic assumption behind recent planning trends regarding increased density to preserve undeveloped habitat/wildlife corridors or parks/open space for humans is that there is undeveloped land set aside for these purposes. Without undeveloped parcels or open space, this theory simply increases density, removing habitat/corridor and crowding residents, who may not be able to evacuate safely.
Failure to consider wildlife habitat and corridors: In both the City and County, we have Comprehensive Plan statements about protecting wildlife habitat and corridors, yet we haven’t seen that applied in planning or requirements for development.

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