Mapping error, shmapping error! – An opinion

An Opinion

Submitted by Robert Wells
Citizen of Fernandina Beach
March 12, 2019 10:04 a.m.

Mapping error, shmapping error! Let’s get something straight. The Amelia Bluff debacle isn’t about a mapping error as the City staff would have us believe, it’s about the City getting itself into a pickle of it’s own making, and then creating an new ordinance as an easy way out of the mess. Easy way out, that is, if you’re ok with losing seven acres of irreplaceable Egans Creek Greenway conservation buffer as the price.

If the vote taken on the first reading of the ordinance on February 19 is any indication, three City Commissioners are just hunky-dory with the trade off. Never mind prior to the vote, City Chambers were overflowing with citizens imploring the Commissioners to vote against the ordinance. What’s even more gulling, these same three Commissioners fall over one another proclaiming their “commitment to conservation”. Apparently it’s a whole lot easier to tend to sea turtle nests and proclaim your love of Right Whales than it is to face up to the prickly conservation challenges in your own community for which you campaigned and were elected.

For the benefit of those just coming up to speed on this conservation land grab, here’s some background. A city staff member, unauthorized to do so, made an inaccurate verbal representation to the seasoned Amelia Bluff developer who naively accepted and acted upon it even though it was never put in writing. The representation made was that a seven acre parcel of land abutting Egans Creek Greenway on the City’s land use map designated conservation was shown as such in error, and that the same parcel on the city’s zoning map designated as residential was the correct classification. This representation was made without supporting documents. Indeed all the supporting records along with the requisite approvals fully support the conservation classification on the land use map. Important to this discussion is that the land use map trumps the zoning map in defining the permitted use of a particular parcel of land.

If I sound angry, I am, and if you value Egans Creek Greenway you should be angry as well. Over the years, like many others in the community, I spent many hours in benefit to Egans Creek Greenway. Much of that effort was on the Greenway itself but also there were many hours in public meetings. Much of the work was directed at repairing damage inflicted upon the Greenway by human error, negligence and greed. Like the others, I felt duty-bound to do what I could to protect and preserve the Greenway. It is disheartening to see that not only are our past efforts being disrespected, but that the progress we believed had been achieved now appears to be eroding.

Discouraged yes, disheartened perhaps, defeated not yet! We will fill City Chambers on March 19 when the second and final reading of the conservation land grab ordinance is voted upon. We will again make our voices heard, and then we will watch. We will observe which commissioners demonstrate a true commitment to conservation even in the face of difficult circumstances by voting against this ordinance, and which commissioners are willing to sacrifice seven acres of irreplaceable Greenway buffer because it’s an easy way out of a jam. For the commissioners voting against the ordinance, your commitment to conservation will long be remembered; for the others, we will never let you forget!

Editor’s Note: Robert Wells is a resident of Fernandina Beach where has resided with his wife since 2006. He is a photographer, cyclist, Petanque player, and birder. He has advocated for the environmental protection of Egans Creek Greenway and additionally has volunteered for various Greenway activities including leading monthly Greenway walks. He is a Florida Master Naturalist. Robert has pursued a number of outdoor activities including kayaking, hiking and camping.

Prior to locating to Fernandina and retiring, Robert and his wife resided in Pittsburgh where he held a number of positions in corporate finance.

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12 Responses to Mapping error, shmapping error! – An opinion

  1. Robert Warner says:

    Nothing like pontification. Just wish folks would understand the reality of mistakes, litigation, costs in today’s legal world, and what it all takes from human and capital resources required to actually fix the problem to prevent a recurrence. We actually have smart, honest folks, trying hard to make decent decisions on hard choices in our City government. Just saying.

    • Teri Springer says:

      The reality is, there are mistakes and there are “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” “mistakes.” This is the latter. If we let it slide this time a legal precedence will have been set. It’s time we stood up and said ENOUGH. This is an ISLAND, in case you didn’t notice. And the land is in limited supply. One group is interested in protecting the land because of this limited amount. The other is interested in making profits that are enhanced by the limited supply.

      NO MORE DESTRUCTION. NO MORE “Oh gee, I’m sorry we goofed; reference the new hotel on Sadler and the legacy trees that were “accidentally” cut down and the new senior living community off the Parkway where the same thing happened….why? Because it’s more cost effective to pay a small fine than actually work within the guidelines and hey, it’s all about the money!

      If you care so little for this island, maybe you should just go elsewhere.

      • Chris Hadden says:

        I do not know what the penalties are for legacy tree cutting but you could well be correct that perhaps the penalty is simply not high enough to offer protection. Developers may just feel the fines will be a cost of the project and factor that in. If it is happening over and over again the city should revisit penalties being assessed
        . .

  2. Chris Hadden says:

    I feel your pain Robert and I am on the pro-conservation side also. The issue as I see it is the developer is not at fault here. However it came about, the town made an error. A bad error. Now what? The trees are down, What is the potential cost to the city to reimburse, litigate and restore that area? Do you have that figure? I bet it is really high. Perhaps whatever that cost would be should be spent elsewhere then going into lawyers pockets. I also like Adam Kaufmans suggestion “the Commission adopts a resolution committing to allocate a portion (50%) of the proceeds generated from the City property tax assessed on the 30 Amelia Bluff homes, to be set aside each fiscal year going forward as dedicated funding for conservation and historic preservation.” I appreciate your anger. I am angry too.

    • Teri Springer says:

      Initially I felt the developer was not at fault however, he clearly knew something was not copasetic but, instead of taking the high road and pursuing the truth he took the road of more jingle in his pocket and ran with it. Legally the FLUM takes prescience over the city zoning map. Had this been examined prior to the beginning of the construction, no trees would have been cut. Yes, the trees are cut and work is well underway. But the damage is not total and the land IS redeemable. Deny permits to build closer to the greenway. Keep a (publicly accessible) buffer. Yes, the developer loses some money in that he can’t build houses right up to the greenway. Too bad. He knew that was conservation land when he bought it.

      And shame on the folks on the school board who made the decision to sell land to a developer when they knew that part of that property was conservation land and, therefore, not to be developed. Perhaps THEY should be held responsible for the costs of litigation. Let the profit the school made on the sale be used to reverse this egregious “error.”

  3. Robert Prager says:

    What is so, and so what? In discussing Amelia Bluff and the FLUM there is a lot of attention expended on if the point on the FLUM is correct or not and what is the intent. That has little to do with the situation and is a distraction. An experienced planner, developer and his consultants were aware of the point. For the sake of argument, let’s replace the point with a stop sign at an intersection. The three arrive at the stop sign. They all know what a stop sign means. The planner says the stop sign is in the wrong intersection. It should be one block further north. Each time the developer and his consultants arrive at the stop sign should they stop or run it? Common sense says they should stop because everyone else expects the intent of the sign to be honored. The developer and the consultants chose to run the stop sign rather than ask for it to be relocated and there is a collision. Who is to blame? What matters, that the stop sign was there or that the driver thought it was in the wrong place?

  4. Chris Hadden says:

    Peggy, whether the developer was naive or savvy is really not the issue. The town is the ultimate authority and in control of what is/was allowed or not. Your charge that ” City staff essentially inserted their own agenda for development over the interests of the people and the island.” is a fairly serious accusation in my mind. Making a mistake or misunderstanding something is much different then purposely negating laws and deceiving people on a project like this. What would an employee of the town have to gain from that? I do not know the answer to this accusation but I think it is unlikely anyone from the town would purposely do that. If that were the case then yes they should be fired immediately and perhaps even legal action taken.

  5. Gerald Decker says:

    People….give it a rest. The developer has rights too. The city commissioners must do the right thing and allow the development to continue….which can be done without damaging the greenway. I think the real issue at play is anti-development……slam the doors to anyone else who wants to enjoy the island…..sad.

    • Robert Prager says:

      With rights come responsibilities. The developer and his consultants knew the rules and chose not to follow them. At anytime they could have and should have asked for a FLUM amendment. That failure brought us here.

    • Vince Cavallo says:

      Everyone here knew or should have known there was a guiding rule, the FLUM, over a portion of this land. 6 plus acres is not a mapping error, it is not a scriveners error. It is a finitely published and filed encumberance on the property. No city official had the authority to give a verbal go ahead without approval by the governing body. No developer had the right to act upon an extra legal opinion by any city official. No attorney representing a developer in this endeavor could or should have said, yes go ahead without clear title to the use of the property.

      That said, we are now at the point of mitigating the damages of this catastrophe. Officials must weigh the juxtaposition of conservation interests against a protracted civil settlement, costs, and duration of the fight. IMO, the developer is at fault for relying upon the ruling by a city official who was not just wrong, he was not authorized to make that assessment. However, the damage is done. The trees are gone, the land dug up, the concrete poured. This development has been on a fast track and now stands as testament to the adage, haste makes waste. The city saw tax dollars while the developer saw profits. No one considered the environmental issues. Now citizens are left to clean up after the circus parade has gone by.

  6. B. D. Hunter says:

    “…whether the developer was naive or savvy is really not the issue.” Don’t be so sure about that. The developer has already conceded that ‘anything is for sale at a price,’ so why wouldn’t he have gone into this, knowing he was on wobbly handshake ground, with that as a fallback? Mr. Beard has a prominent local attorney as a brother-in-law so, if Beard is neither “naive or savvy,” you can bet his long entrenched brother-in-law can play both sides of that divide to advantageous ends. Stay cautious; don’t let the Divide And Conquer strategy destroy the strengths of this argument.

    • Chris Hadden says:

      I get what your saying, but this is a developer, like a corporation his goal or purpose is strictly to make money. We all know that. Even if he knew the town had made an error and kept that to himself for his own benefit. I do not believe there is any recourse. He was not the granting authority. The town was. Unless you got this guy on tape conspiring with the town on this, giving a kickback or some such thing none of this is going to land on him. Doesn’t make it right but this all falls back on the town.

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