City Commission: New hotels on beachfront won’t be easy

  • Two separate but adjoining hotels could be built on these two beachfront lots just north of Sliders Seaside Grill on South Fletcher Avenue. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    Two separate but adjoining hotels could be built on these two beachfront lots just north of Sliders Seaside Grill on South Fletcher Avenue. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER

Fernandina Beach residents shared their concerns at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting about two proposed projects in the city: the waterfront park and two hotels on South Fletcher Avenue. Neither project got any support from those who spoke at the meeting.

The hotels proposed for the beach side of South Fletcher Avenue would be built on two adjoining lots just north of Sliders Seaside Grill. City Attorney Tammi Bach provided an update of the status of the project, saying the conditional approval given by the city’s Technical Review Committee expired before any further action on the project was taken. The city’s Board of Adjustment voted to extend that approval, so the next step for the project’s developers is to seek an extension of the project’s permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The FDEP requires a letter from the city indicating the project’s plans are compliant with all city codes. The city told the developers it will require an updated biological survey and updated plans before it issues that letter. The property owners have not yet applied for permits from the city’s Building Department.

Mayor Johnny Miller said the current City Commission created requirements that developers would have to meet that include firewalls between the buildings and a separate lobby and facilities. The developers cannot apply to the BOA for a variance to build the hotels any taller than 35 feet, and that height is measured from the natural grade of the lots, not from the foundation of the building.

Material from excavation at the site must stay on the property, storm water must stay on the property, and parking requirements must be met in addition to other requirements for building in a Coastal Upload Protection Zone. The two lots cannot be combined, but the commercial zoning would allow for “zero setbacks,” Bach said. The city has told developers they can build the two buildings up against each other but will not be allowed to build balconies that intrude into 10-foot setbacks required on the north and south sides of the buildings.

“Not only is there a long process, but we made the process extremely difficult, by design,” Miller said. 

Ross pointed out that, no matter how much the community and the City Commission might want to stop the hotels, property owners’ rights must be respected under Florida law. He added that, if the city should stop the hotels from being built by changing the lots’ Future Land Use Map designation or zoning, it would be considered a “taking” that would require the city to pay for taking the owner’s right to use their property as they see fit.

“The only real way to stop development of that property – if the community really wants to stop development of that property – we need to buy that property, and ‘we’ means the community,” Ross said.

Bach said that kind of effort would cost about $2 million.

“The city does not have the money to buy that property,” Ross explained. “Maybe the county would do it; maybe people could get together. But if you really want to stop development there, it needs to be bought and put into conservation or an easement created.”

The commissioners also discussed potential projects on the Amelia River.

The city’s plan for the Amelia River waterfront includes three elements: resiliency to protect the land from erosion and the area from flooding; a park with greenspace and other elements; and a reworking of the configuration of Front Street. The resiliency and park plans were unveiled last month, and the landscape company that designed the park, Marquis, Latimer + Halback, created an online public portal for people to provide feedback. Commissioner Mike Lednovich said he believes it is important that the comments left on the portal be made public since those opinions could shape the outcome of the project. The link can be found here:

Two City Commission candidates, Alex Lajoux and Marian Phillips, said they do not approve of the waterfront plans. Phillips said that the city has
enough parks and that the waterfront needs to remain a working marina. She said she wants to expand that to include more commercial fishing and shrimping and an element to educate the public about the history of shrimping.

Lajoux named several avenues for funding for resiliency and for helping to bring back shrimping to the waterfront and the marina. She asked the City Commission to reconsider their plans.

A public meeting regarding the park plans is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12. A link to join that meeting, which will be held via the Zoom videoconferencing app, is available at

The City Commission unanimously voted to extend the emergency order requiring masks to be worn inside public spaces, including businesses, to Nov. 6. The order can be extended again at that point.

Martin said the city had previously approved three special events: a Veterans Day parade, a Christmas parade and the New Year’s Shrimp Drop. He asked the City Commission for some direction regarding the events in light of the coronavirus pandemic, so commissioners asked the matter be added to their Oct. 20 agenda for discussion. Fernandina Beach Main Street Executive Director Arlene Filkoff said that organization is still planning its annual Black Friday pajama party, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, with some changes.

“Pajama Party can go on as a promotion for downtown and not to include any street closures, kid zone, etc.,” Filkoff said in a letter to businesses. “Main Street will promote this shopping day on Facebook and potentially with ads in other media depending on cost. We will also promote by including a virtual pajama contest with submissions online and voting online. Historic Fernandina Business Association, the event owner, has opted out of marketing for this day per their board chair.” She added that plans for trick-or-treating downtown are still being shaped.

In other business, the City Commission:

• Proclaimed Oct. 5-11 as “Les DeMerle Amelia Island Jazz Festival Week”;

• Approved poll workers for a 2020 run-off election;

• Approved a voluntary annexation agreement to extend wastewater services to 3001 S. 14th St.;

• Added funding for storm water projects to the city’s list of legislative priorities for the 2021 session in Tallahassee, along with funding for improvements to the Peck Center and a rewrite of the charter of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority;

• Approved a subrecipient agreement with the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners in order to receive funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act;

• Approved various department budget amendments in the 2020-21 budget; and

• Appointed Ricky Robbins to the Golf Course Advisory Board and reappointed Steve Gibb to the Board of Trustees of the General Employees Pension Plan, Ashley Karl to the Board of Trustees of the Firefighters and Police Officers Pension Plan, and Carol Kish to Arts and Culture Nassau.