Editor's note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version of this story stated that Amelia Hospitality LLC operates the Palace Saloon, Hammerhead Beach Bar, and Amelia River Golf Club; those businesses are operated by Amelia Island Hospitality Group LLC.
Plans to build two beachfront hotels side by side, on two separate lots on South Fletcher Avenue, just north of Sadler Road, have been in the works since 2016. After stalling out for several years, at least one question about the construction lies in the hands of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The matter is also on the agenda for the next Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting, set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at City Hall. The developers are asking the city of Fernandina Beach to issue a letter to FDEP indicating that they have complied with city requirements, but the city is asking for more information before they write such a letter.
The plans call for two separate buildings with underground valet parking, three floors of air-conditioned space, and rooftop elements. The property at 1962 S. Fletcher Ave. is owned by Sri Ganesha LLC, and 1974 S. Fletcher Ave. is owned by Amelia Hospitality LLC.
City Attorney Tammi Bach confirmed Thursday that the buildings can literally go in right next to each other as the plans are for zero lot lines.
“’Zero Lot Line’ means exactly that,” Bach said in an email. ‘“Zero inches’ separation between the hotels.’”
According to City Planning & Conservation Director Kelly Gibson, the site plans for the properties located north of Sliders Seaside Grill were reviewed by the city’s Technical Review Committee in 2016 and received conditional approvals in January 2017.
City staff informed the applicants in July 2019 that the conditional site plan approvals expired for failure to provide a written request to extend the local development order. That action led the applicants to appeal to the city’s Board of Adjustment to overturn the city staff’s determination about the expired approvals.
The BOA ruled in favor of the applicants in October 2019.
The applicants are also seeking an extension of their FDEP permits. The FDEP will require locally issued letters to indicate compliance with city standards. The city has informed the applicants they will need to provide a complete architectural plan before they issue FDEP compliance review letters. Given the time that lapsed between the original Technical Review Committee reviews and now – four years later – the city will also request updated biological surveys. FDEP compliance letters are required to be reviewed by both the city’s Planning and Building departments before issuance by the city.
Engineer Nick Gillette told the News-Leader that building the underground parking should not be a problem for the hotels, as long as the water table on the site is low enough. “It would be no different than building any garage under a building,” Gillette said, adding that sump pumps are usually installed in underground parking areas to pump out storm water drainage.
Gillette’s firm, Gillette & Associates, submitted the applications for the project, so Nick Gillette could not comment specifically on the project since it’s a legal matter.
Fernandina Beach Building Official Stephen Beckman told the News-Leader that no revised plans have been submitted so he couldn’t comment on them, but Beckman did indicate that underground parking could occur at the site because the water table there would not be different from the site of the World Trade Center towers in New York, for example, which had underground floors.
“It could be done, with a lot of engineering to de-water the site,” Beckman said.
The two lots are in the Coastal Upland Protection Zone, which is an area extending 1,000 feet landward from the Coastal Construction Control Line.
According to the city’s Land Development Code at section 3.01.02, construction in the CUPZ “shall not adversely affect contours and topography” within that zone, which would include affecting the dune structure, removal or destruction of vegetation that would impact the dune, removal of sand from the dune, or impacting some species of wildlife.
Gibson said the area, being landward of the CCCL and in the Coastal Upland Protection Zone, would require FDEP permits meant to protect the dune and topography.
“The entirety of the project in terms of its fill and grade activity will be under the permit purview and stricter requirements that are found under DEP regulations under Florida administrative code,” Gibson said.
The News-Leader reached out to Sidney Ansbacher, the attorney who represented both property owners in the appeal process, but those calls were not returned by Thursday’s press deadline.
Why plans for two hotels, side by side, on two separate lots? Since the two, 100-foot-wide lots where the hotels would go are on the east side of South Fletcher Avenue, they cannot be combined, per city code.
In 2003, the city amended its Land Development Code, noting, “It is in the City’s best interest to limit the combination of residential and commercial lots in order to restrict structures having a larger mass abutting Ocean Avenue, North Fletcher Avenue and South Fletcher Avenue.”
Until 2018, the LDC stated, (a) “variance shall not be granted to deviate from LDC (Land Development Code) section 4.02.02 to combine two or more lots which would result in a lot width greater than 100 feet for lots or parcels that abut Ocean Avenue, North Fletcher Avenue, or South Fletcher Avenue.”
That code was later amended to allow the consideration of combining the large lots, but only on the west side of North Fletcher and South Fletcher avenues in certain “Job Opportunity Areas.”
An ordinance passed by the City Commission in 2018 says the city will “allow the Board of Adjustment to consider a variance request exceeding the maximum 100 foot lot width for only those properties which are 1. located on the west side of North or South Fletcher Avenue, 2. contain a general commercial future land use map category, 3. have a community commercial zoning designation and 4. are within one of the City’s Job Opportunity Areas.
The City Commission then gave themselves the final authority over any request to combine lots in that manner: “The City Commission may take action to authorize a variance request from LDC Section 4.02.02 for properties which are contained within the Comprehensive Plan defined “Job Opportunity Areas,” but only for properties located on the west side of North or South Fletcher Avenues in the Job Opportunity Areas. The City Commission shall hear such variance requests in accordance with provisions for variances as set forth in