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HomeNassau CountyFernandina BeachFernandina: Annexation Fixation

Fernandina: Annexation Fixation

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By Michael R. Martin, 11-29-23

Meeting Video  Agenda 

i.  Annexation Anticipation

The November 21st, 2023 Fernandina Beach City Commission General Meeting addressed even more nearby areas of unincorporated territory that are currently serviced and governed by Nassau County, rather than a municipal body, proposed to be annexed and incorporated into the City of Fernandina Beach.  While other matters of importance to the city  arose, the agenda was again dominated by proposed ordinances to annex and re-zone various regions of nearby abutting land currently considered unincorporated territory.

While the City sees this as a chance in further expanding its base for tax revenue by annexing and absorbing these areas piece by piece, some say the tax revenue from the relatively small number of residents in these, on average, one-to-three-acre areas of land will not justify the expenses of expanding public utility and other governmental services currently funded by the County.

On the other hand, the residents of the unincorporated areas for the most part support the voluntary annexation into the City of Fernandina Beach, for access to better public utility services than that of Nassau County, and to have the influence as residents living under a localized municipal government. 

The first annexation proposal comes in Section 7.1 of the meeting agenda, referenced as “Ordinance 2023-50.” The land being proposed for annexation is only .94 acres in size and located at 1912 and 1888 Drury Road.

After each proposed ordinance for annexation, the following two items on the agenda pertain to affixing a planned future land use zoning classification for the soon-to-be-annexed area, and then a proposition to change the area to be annexed from its current Nassau County Zoning Classification to that future land use zoning classification decided on by the Commission. For the land contemplated in Ordinance 2023-50, under Ordinance 2023-52 the Commission voted to change this area from Nassau County Single Family Residential to City of Fernandina Beach R-2, which allows single and multi-family residential uses.

The next proposed land annexation is found in Item 7.5 on the agenda, labeled “Ordinance 2023-53,” concerns a 3.47-acre area of land located on S. 14th Street and S. 15th Street, and contingent to, or abutting, the city limits. The City Commission decides the zoning classification fate of this future section of the City of Fernandina Beach to be General Commercial (C-2) under the City of Fernandina Beach Ordinance’s definition in the part fronting S. 14th Street, and “Community Commercial” or (C-1) in the area fronting S. 15th Street. These future designations are made but followed with requesting a change from Nassau County’s current zoning classification designated for this area as “Commercial Intensive,” or (CI).

The third annexation proposed at this City Commission General Meeting was discussed in the meeting prior, and comes in Section Eight of the Agenda titled “Ordinance Second Reading.” Item 8.1, labeled Ordinance 2023-44, proposes annexing an area of 1.33 acres off Amelia Road. The future contemplated zoning classification for this proposed annexation was declared to be Low Density Residential (LDR), requesting a change from the current Nassau County Classification of RS2, Or Residential Single Family 2.

Finally Item 8.4, labeled “Ordinance 2023-41,” is the final annexation fixation on the agenda, seeking to annex 1.41 acres of land located at 2194 Sadler  Road, and contiguous to the city limits. The future land use classification decided upon is MU, or Mixed Use, and a requested change from Nassau County’s Current Commercial General (CG) is decided upon under item 8.6 on the agenda, referenced as “Ordinance 2023-43.”

The City of Fernandina Beach Is annexing more land at a higher rate it appears than the British Empire at the prime of colonization. Whether or not the city officials ‘ contentions of an increased tax revenue base and more funding for public services, or the opposing side’s view of a deficit from the expenditures required to service these new areas with relatively few new residents contributing to the municipal tax base, it is clear the City of Fernandina Beach is not afraid of expanding its borders.

It appears from the uniformity of support amongst the Commission that the annexation agenda being pursued of late by the City of Fernandina Beach is one that comes from the interests of the municipal elected and appointed officials.  Although it’d go too far to say that the general public opposes these proposals, one would be hard pressed to find a resident proposing, or very often speaking in support of the annexation agenda, or fixation, the members of the Commission are displaying. A quick look back to October and September’s meetings show clearly that the City has pursued this for some time now.

II. Pending Litigation Against City & Vice Mayor David Sturges’ Two Ethical Investigations

 Two Authorization to Defend Resolutions… The first, Resolution 2023-211, is a request by the town attorney to permit her to defend the City against a personal injury lawsuit filed by several individuals. Of course, the Commission approved this Resolution.

However, although still approved, far more curious is the second requested Authorization to Defend, Resolution 2023-212. It seeks to authorize the City Attorney to defend the Vice Mayor, David Sturges, before the Florida Commission on Ethics.

This is the second separate ethics investigation into David Sturges now underway by the Florida Commission on Ethics. The first was filed against him in April 2023, alleging that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest that should have had him recuse himself over a matter involving the closing of a business owned by his business partner. Sturges is well-known to have significant land holdings across town, yet has often not recused himself on matters that were questionable for him to sit on.

The nature of the latest complaint is not revealed yet, however Sturges denies any wrongdoing. An Authorization to Defend Resolution asks that the City pay for a municipal officer or elected official’s legal defense under the theory that the City should indemnify their public servants against liability imposed in the performance of their official duties.

Whether or not, from the information available, the first complaint of failing to recognize an obvious conflict of interests and invoke the necessary recusal seems hardly to be an exercise of Sturge’s official duties, making it difficult imagining the tens to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer revenue going towards not just one, but two ethical violation investigations by the Florida Commission On Ethics. 

III. Subdivision Plat Approval in Land Yet To Be Annexed

The third most attention-garnering item on the September 22nd agenda is found in Section Nine, “Resolutions,” of the agenda. Item 9.1, or “Resolution 2023-216.” It seeks to approve a preliminary plat, referred to as PAB Case 2023-0047. 

A Preliminary Plat is a map detailing out a proposed subdivision up for approval by a municipal body. This proposed subdivision is located at 2194 Sadler Road. If this sounds familiar, it is because it includes the 1.41 acres of unincorporated territory sought to be annexed under Ordinance 2023-43. The proposed name of this subdivision is the “Breakers Townhomes.” 

Using the name of West Palm Beach’s most iconic hotel may indicate the plan is to make this subdivision a very high-class neighborhood. However, to even approve a subdivision, the annexation sought of this area of land must come first, otherwise Nassau County holds sovereign authority over the zoning classifications and approval of subdivisions in the currently unincorporated territorial plot. Thus, the approval currently means nothing as far as proceeding further, as it is titled a “preliminary approval,” contingent on the voluntary annexation of the area succeeding.

IV. Other Matters/Public Comment/Reaction

One other important resolution was Resolution 2023-210. It authorizes a Change Order with the construction contract and completion date granted to Hayward Construction Group, LLC. The contemplated construction involved installing three new security gates at the Fernandina Harbor Marina. Furthermore, Resolution 2023-215 follows it, approving a government-wide salary and personnel increase for the City.

Public Comment opened the floor for residents to speak their mind on matters on or off the agenda. The only notable speaker was an ardent oppositionist to the annexation agenda of the City.

Jack Ember, of Fernandina Beach, provided a very lengthy and heartfelt expression of his frustrations and concerns with the entire “annexation glut” initiative of the town. This writer prefers the self-coined term “Annexation Fixation,” however the statements made in the comment show that there is a divide amongst the community regarding support or opposition to continuing to annex abutting areas of land and incorporate them into Fernandina Beach.

Mr. Ember, however, has a point. With all the above-mentioned approved expenditures and expenses of connecting the soon-to-be-annexed areas of land to the town utility and sewer lines, whether or not the City Commission will achieve the objective of forming a greater tax base, or as dissenters like Mr. Ember proclaim that Fernandina Beach will begin running a budgetary deficit, seems to favor the latter. For example, two of the proposed annexations on this agenda are commercial use areas. This means, although the buildings businesses own or lease may be taxed, no new residents are being incorporated in these areas to increase the tax base. While the 2194 Sandler Road subdivision proposal certainly adds residents, its actual materialization as the necessary perquisites, such as successful voluntary annexation having to occur could put the completion of this twelve-house subdivision years in the future.

V. Concluding Matters

Concluding matters include the City Attorney’s Report. All the City Attorney states is that on December 5th there must be held an Executive Session on the “Ocean Highway Case.” One could conclude this refers to the personal injury, slip and fall lawsuit being filed against the town. Copies of the Complaint filed in the local district court are attached below.

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A brief overview of the case gives this legal practitioner the impression the plaintiffs should be expecting a hefty settlement agreement from the City given the facts alleged. However, it is difficult to determine this with certainty at this time given the City Attorney was just granted authorization to defend and has yet to publish a reply to the complaint that can be found.

Summarizing the meeting, the major issue in the future is, given:

– all the expenditures approved at this meeting from legal defense funds to increasing City Staff

– promoting and giving police officers and firemen raises

– this trend in other recent meetings in conjunction with the Commission’s “Annexation Fixation”

… all raise budgetary concerns. The meeting filled with a lot of spending proposals and initiatives, discussion of the positive impact to the community, and yet there are few comments as to how the City plans to counteract such spending in finding increased sources of tax revenue.

The other major takeaway is the burgeoning Fernandina Beach political scandal following Vice Mayor Sturges.

Social media comments can be found expressing disgust for the second ethical violation investigation being launched in one year against the Vice Mayor. Furthermore, residents don’t seem to sit well with the notion that it is them, The taxpayers, footing the bill for the legal defense of the Vice Mayor. Everyone knows Mr. Sturges is a man of considerable assets, and more than capable of affording his own legal defense. This and the alleged cavalier approach to abiding by ethical guidelines of his office, seems to be invoking strife amongst residents and public opposition to the Vice Mayor’s continuance in office in some sects.

This is justified, given the first ethical violation was proven to be true by Sturges ignoring a blatant conflict of interest and voting on the closure of a business of one of his business partners, it would appear the Vice Mayor suffers from poor decision-making when faced with ethical dilemmas.

Like the former ethics investigation, he denies any legitimacy to the allegations, which after the record clearly shows the first ethical investigation was based on a true and knowing (or constructive knowledge A.K.A. should have known) failure to recuse himself from a vote due to a very compromising conflict of interests. Where these investigations go next will be an interesting story to follow.

Please welcome our newest writer!

Michael R. Martin splits time between his home in Kennebunk, Maine and Bonita Springs Florida. He graduated Cum Laude from Northeastern in 2015, and obtained his Juris Doctor from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2021, passing the bar exam the first administration in February 2022. Prior to Law School, Martin worked for the Maine Policy Center as a policy analyst, a conservative think tank based out of Yarmouth, Maine.

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