By George Miller & Sandy Kerry, Updated 10-13-22
Some recent local residential construction appears to encroach on an Amelia Island coastal sand dune. People who have been following this tell us that the owner had applied last year for a variance to build four houses on the property on 1505 S. Fletcher Ave.
This was denied, but the applicant later came back and secured approval for a new plan for three houses. Two will be built directly backing up to a sand dune in the rear of the property. Recent rainfall has caused parts of the now undermined dune and trees upon it to collapse. Local residents Sandy Kerry and Bryn Byron have taken an interest in this for a while and complained to the City. Ms. Kerry told us that Mayor Mike Lednovich says he has contacted City Manager Dale Martin about the situation five times. But City Engineer Charlie George points out that the plan is legal under current City law, explained later in this article.
The city authorized a private inspector to monitor the project. The houses were being built without a retaining wall yet in place for the dune alongside them in the rear of the property. The wall is belatedly under construction.
When we visited the site on Wednesday, we confirmed all we had heard- dune and trees are collapsing and are now right up against the under-construction building in the rear of the property, which is across the street from ocean front homes.
A crew had recently excavated for the retaining wall footings, placed forms and just poured fresh concrete when I arrived (see photos).
Ms. Kerry doesn’t believe that the houses should even be where they are, even with a wall constructed, as they are way too close to the dune (see photos). A few people we talked to expressed surprised that such an environmentally sensitive community didn’t have more dune protection.
Mayor Weighs In
We spoke to Mayor Mike Lednovich about the situation. He has gone to the city manager multiple times about this at the behest of residents. He told Mr. Miller that permits are issued independently of the City Commission. He laments that “the city has not done a very good job to protect the coastline/dunes”. When Miller asked him what state laws might apply, he mentioned the CCCL (Coastal Construction Code Line) – see image below, but the location is outside the boundary. He said that the applicant was ordered by the city to put the wall up.
He opined that inspectors for all trades should be vigilant about environmental matters, such as this, tree barriers and not just be “silo-focused” on their own specialties.
In response to a question we posed, he stated that projects like this do not require a City Commission vote for approval, but only permission from the permit department.
City Engineer Weighs In
(updated 10-13-22)… We also called City Engineer Charlie George for details on the permit and inspection/monitoring and heard back from him on Thursday. He informed us of the following:
- Applicant applied to create four buildings there last year.
- Application was rejected, but an alternative plan to erect three buildings in the current layout, two of them actually built into the dune, was approved. It conforms with current City Land Development Code, he told us.
- Applicant must minimize impact on the dunes
- Houses to serve as a retaining wall for the dune, along with the retaining wall now being built alongside them.
- Applicant must save all material removed and replace it on the dune.
So, if residents don’t like it, they could work to change the law.
It is our understanding that the city retained a private company to do the inspections.
City Attorney Weighs In
City Attorney Tammi Bach confirmed that the project is in compliance with ordinances/laws -local, county and state. She says that they also talked to FL EPA, even though there is no legal requirement to do so and that they were OK with it as long as harm was minimized. We haven’t actually read the applicable law or had an independent legal look at it.
Dune Expert/PhD Weighs In
Sandy Kerry knows local resident Frank Hopf, PhD in geology and coastal morphology, who talked with us. He admitted that he isn’t an expert in the legalities, but he sure does know about dunes. He has many years of experience, relevant schooling and operates The Dune Science Group, LLC. He did his doctoral dissertation on the Sacramento River Delta.
He does not agree that no harm is done, saying that stripping off the dunes and ruining vegetation will actually result in lowering the water table, which will further starve the plants of water, so they can’t recover, resulting in less to hold the dunes together.
Dr. Hopf described the local geology as “two sand piles on a pile of mud over porous limestone bedrock, held together by vegetation.” He elaborated by saying that we have a fragile local environment, low lying with only a few high spots of 40 ft above sea level. He noted that the tallest and second tallest dunes in the state are both right here, in the American Beach area (Nana dune system).
He says that the dunes need better protection and that he and a colleague are working with the City Attorney on proposed legislation to accomplish that, on a volunteer basis.
If we understood him correctly, he said that a 100 year flood line was drawn in 1984 and that a 500 year flood line goes 5000 feet in from the coast or the entire width of a barrier island, which is what Amelia Island is. He said that the state lacks the resources to monitor building activity, so it defaults to the local jurisdictions to do so.
City Manager Dale Martin Doesn’t Weigh In
After multiple calls, we haven’t yet heard back from City Manager Dale Martin. We’ll let you know if we learn anything from him on the matter
Ms. Kerry provided this recent correspondence with city officials:
Dear Ms. Sellers & Ms. Armstrong,
I have notified the mayor after heavy rains last night there’s been further collapse of the dunes and a tree on the dune falling over after the beginning of the building of the so-called protective wall. The protective wall should’ve been put in first and it is meant to protect the dune not the house. A neighbor said they were trying to backfill & the dune keeps collapsing. Further building is only going to encroach on the dues even more. Ages of Ajax (a consulting & engineering firm) was there when pics were taken this morning. This needs to stop now.
Resident of Amelia Island
Sent from my iPhone
Begin forwarded message:
Subject: Dune encroachment on S Fletcher
I took these pics this morning 10/12 & sent to the Mayor & Bradley Bean with this text: “This is supposed to be the protective wall? This is more encroachment!” 2 men were on the property & 1 drove away in the truck from Ages of Jax Inc. the mayor said at the Friends of Fernandina Beach candidate forum Mon nt that he had asked the city mgr 5 times including that morning to take care of this.
From: Len Kreger <[email protected]>
Subject: RE: City Commissioners,
Date: October 5, 2022 at 4:36:23 PM EDT
To: Bryn Byron
I am told that this is allowed by State Law. I have not yet been able to determine if we can refuse the request. In either case, City Staff needs to be involved in any project involving environmental sensitive land.
City of Fernandina Beach
204 Ash Street
Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
(904) 432-8389 | [email protected]
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From: Bryn Byron
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2022 12:51 PM
To: Mike Lednovich; Len Kreger; Bradley Bean; David Sturges; Chip Ross
Subject: City Commissioners,
CAUTION: This email originated from outside the organization. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognize the sender, were expecting this email, and know the content is safe.
I’m just a little confused.
As a taxpayer of Fernandina Beach, we pay five City Commissioners ( one of which is our City Mayor), a City Manager and his assistant City Manager, employees in the planning department, a city engineer, people in the code enforcement and permitting department. Why in the world did the City release the property owner from their inspection by the city building inspector? This action of using a private inspector should not have been allowed and is the reason we have this encroachment issue!
Last year we spent numerious (S.I.C.) hours preventing this owner from infringing on the dunes as she was trying to get a varience (S.I.C.) to build four houses on this property.
Please explain how none of these people could prevent this travesty on South Fletcher Avenue of an eight foot high invasion into the dune.
George Miller is Publisher and Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, based in Fernandina Beach. He is a “retired” operations management consultant, software and publishing executive and manufacturing management professional.
Sandy Kerry lives on Amelia Island and is interested in environmental issues,