By George Miller, 2-9-23
Item pulled from the 2-7-23 meeting agenda with no notice! A highly controversial raised townhome project is proposed for 3rd Street in historic downtown Fernandina Beach- in an area supposedly protected by codes to help keep the historic look and feel of the zone.
The applicant wishes to place 12 townhomes in spaces where 4 historic single family homes now rest on restful, green, tree-laden property.
The City Commission hadn’t weighed in on it yet and didn’t on Tuesday (2-7-23) either when they were scheduled to. Why: Shortly into the meeting, Mayor Bradley Dean announced that item 7.3:
|3 (Quasi-judicial) PRELIMINARY PLAT/REPLAT APPROVAL – “THIRD AND BEECH” TOWNHOME SUBDIVISION – RESOLUTION 2023-23 APPROVING A PRELIMINARY PLAT/REPLAT TO CREATE A TWELVE-LOT TOWNHOME SUBDIVISION CALLED “THIRD AND BEECH”; AUTHORIZING EXECUTION AND PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE. Synopsis: Approves the preliminary plat/ replat for Third and Beech townhome subdivision.|
… was pulled from the evening’s agenda. The overflowing city hall council chambers were mostly packed for this item and many attendees were none too pleased. Commissioner Chip Ross wanted to know how this project got this far then that happened. Taina Christner told Citizens Journal afterward that she believes pulling it from the agenda was a trick.
After canceling the Tringali agenda item, Mayor Bradley Bean said that people here just for that could go home. He must have forgotten something, because he later asked for speakers on the subject, which even further infuriated departed people who had been awaiting the agenda item that wasn’t. Some were called by friends and returned to speak. Luckily, it’s a small town.
So far, the Technical Review Committee (“TRC”- composed of staff members) has given it a green light, then the Planning Advisory Board voted it down unanimously on 12-14-23. But the City Attorney seemed to think that existing codes permit it, per Taina Christner, a resident of the neighborhood activated by this initiative, who strongly disagreed. She proceeded to read portions of the applicable code at the 2-7-23 meeting to support her position. She added that this strange delay will only add to their level of opposition and that they are not going away. She said she now believes that she can’t trust anything in the application.
CCDF civic group member Sandy Kerry challenged the City to explain why this happened and whether the signatures were even required (see featured photo at top). City Attorney Tammi Bach initially said she didn’t know, but after some interaction with city staff and elected officials, it came out that they thought signatures for an affected trust were not all obtained. Kerry was incredulous that this would only be known this late in the game and thought that the signatures might not even be required. She opined that “not being prepared is not a good answer.” She further observed that the City Manager did not give a 7 day notice to pull the item and it wasn’t clear on what grounds and whether it was a cancellation or continuance of the item.
Kerry’s interpretation of the situation she later related to me is that this agenda item wasn’t postponed, but removed from the agenda and that it can’t be brought back up for a year per city code. She said that so far, she hadn’t heard back from the city on about the withdrawal or the City Attorney’s request for signatures at the last minute. She added that they were supposed to get back to her on what the code says about continuing this. She wrote that “the LDC clearly states that without 7 days written notice of withdrawal or a continuance, applicant cannot bring it up for 12 months.” She cited code 11.03.05 – 06.
Not only should the area retain its historical character, but the plots can’t be replated from the single family combined lots that they are now configured as, per project opponents. We might expect some legal wrangling over this, if both sides push their demands. More episodes to come.
Victoria Robas was opposed to the project, saying that FB valued its look. She said single family residences in the area on multiple lots are considered one lot of record for each residence and there is a history of non-conforming lots. Only one is allowed and demolition doesn’t mean a change in use. She said a supermajority vote by the Board of Adjustment would be required for any exceptions. She drew our attention to the 12-14-22 Planning Advisory Board video, agenda item 5.1 at 7:12 into the video, as well as an article in the Fernandina Observer.
Joyce Tuter Observed that people were “mad” because the item was canceled and added that according to Nassau Tax Assessor records, many parcels have smaller sites making them up, estimating about 2000. Someone said there are 1251 and no one disputed him. She cited code 1.03.05. Tuter feared that many structures could be torn down and replaced with “uncharacteristic” buildings.
We heard nothing from the Commission, staff or applicant on the project, as the item was pulled (continuance? cancelled? Wasn’t specified- just “pulled” ) from the agenda. We await a city response to all of this.
This case may be a “litmus test” of how development projects are evaluated and how various stakeholder and property rights are considered here. New Commissioner Darron Asycue previously told us that he thought codes were not clear enough, that The People need to decide what they want their city to look like, then the codes need to be overhauled to properly reflect that and provide adequate guidance to the Commission and its various boards to ensure that these are carried out smoothly and efficiently. He would not disclose his position on this project, only stating that he is a big property rights advocate but that others’ property rights and codes need to be observed.
The proposed RV park on Sadler, in an unincorporated area, has so far gotten the green light from the county, but townspeople who showed up at the meetings and talk about it are mostly opposed. The County Commission majority voting for it believed that codes and zoning supported it, while others disagreed or just plain didn’t want it, no matter what the codes say. This may be litigated for a while.
A previous article on Tringali project
Please Help: Preserving the Character of Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach
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.