New Nassau County beach ordinance is approved

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  • Nassau County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Danny Leeper listens to public comments on the county’s new “omnibus” beach ordinance. GARY D. MORGAN/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    Nassau County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Danny Leeper listens to public comments on the county’s new “omnibus” beach ordinance. GARY D. MORGAN/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
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There were four public hearings held Monday at the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners meeting, including a final one on substantial changes to the local law governing Atlantic Ocean beaches in the unincorporated areas of the county.

The most controversial changes have been made to driving and parking in certain restricted areas and to camping.

Among the key changes in the new ordinance, “motorized vehicles, on the Atlantic Ocean beaches, in the unincorporated areas, are restricted to Nassau County residents and property owners only,” subject to exceptions for disabled persons with a state-issued hanger in their vehicle and active duty military members with official identification.

The ordinance also says “no motorized vehicles shall be allowed on the Atlantic Ocean beaches between the hours of 9:01 pm and 6:59 am from May 1st of 2020 through October 31st of 2021. The Board of County Commissioners shall determine, at an advertised public hearing on or before October 31, 2021, the rules and regulations for beach driving from November 1st of each year through April 30th of each year. The Amelia Island State Park access and portions of the beach controlled by Amelia Island State Park are subject to their rules and regulations.”

No camping will be allowed between May 1 and Oct. 31 due to turtle nesting season, but the new ordinance also goes on to say beach camping will not be permitted or allowed between Nov. 1, 2020 and Oct. 31, 2021. The BOCC “shall determine, at an advertised public hearing on or before October 31, 2021, the rules and regulations for beach camping from November 1st of each year through April 30th of each year.”

“Primitive Group Camping” will be allowed all year, with a permit, within the Burney Park off-beach parking area.

A copy of the new ordinance can be found at https://bit.ly/34RLCRP.

County Attorney Michael Mullin spoke about the revisions. Mullin noted over two years of work by the Beach Community Working Group, and spoke at length about the reworking of the subjects of camping, use of vehicles, parking, and regulations about who would be allowed to drive on the beach.

There were a number of speakers who appeared in person to make comments and suggestions regarding various parts of the ordinance. Ronald Starling, who runs an organization called Night Sanders Campers, has been very involved in advocating for beach camping. Barbara Coley, who identified herself as a night camper from Jacksonville, asked for clarification on changes made to beach openings and closings. Lowell Hall of Fernandina Beach, an ex-officio member of the beach committee, added suggestions about language that should be used and changed in the ordinance. Ann Jennings of American Beach, who spoke by Zoom videoconferencing, requested that American Beach “be closed to parking and driving on the beach on an emergency basis until a professional study (can) be done to assess the state of the beach and the impact of driving through the historic American Beach neighborhood.” Jennings quoted a traffic study to make her point and expressed her concern about the state of the dunes.

There was a short recess to tweak the ordinance’s language one last time and put the final document in the hands of the commissioners so it could be voted upon. Mullin spoke again about the countless hours spent on the matter, thanking the beach committee and the citizens who testified at hearings, sent over 1,500 emails, and made numerous calls to the county government. He also commended the work of Facilities Maintenance Director Doug Podiak and County Manager Taco Pope. A vote was taken on the final draft of the ordinance and it was passed unanimously.

The BOCC awarded Giddens Security Corporation, “subject to the terms of the negotiated contract for Beach Access Point Security Services,” a contract at the rate of “$21.50 per hour for a minimum of 392 hours per week” as well as holiday rate pay of “1 1/2 times rate of pay at a cost to the county.”

Another public hearing was held to consider rezoning approximately 9.98 acres from Low Density Residential (LDR) and Open Rural (OR) to Commercial (COM) and Commercial Neighborhood (CN) between Hardy Allen Road and Woodbridge Parkway, near the city of Fernandina Beach. Planning Director Thad Crowe spoke briefly about this item and it was approved unanimously.

A hearing was held to consider reducing the required wetland buffer on 27 lots on a previously approved Planned Unit Development called Lighthouse Pointe “to conform to current State and County standards.” The property is located on the east side of Grandview Manor in Yulee. Crowe recommended approval. Attorney Teresa L. Prince, acting as the agent for the developer, explained the reduction as that of an “individual buffer on each lot.” There were no questions from the board, and the item was approved unanimously.

The last item on the agenda was to “Discuss the American Beach Water and Sewer District Advisory Board.” Pope stated that the item was placed on the agenda to inform the public that it would be discussed at a special meeting called for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Consent items undertaken included:

• Approving the Library’s Annual Plan of Service, “a list of goals for the Library System based on the approved library budget.” The plan is a requirement for a state aid grant.

• Approving “Finance Package 2020-22 and associated Resolutions,” including a $195 donation received by Nassau County Animal Services and $26,636 for a grant received by Nassau County Fire & Rescue for two AeroClave decontamination systems.

• Continuing, “for recording purposes only,” consideration of the final plat for Sandy Pointe Preserve, Phase 2, filed by SEDA Construction Company, owner, and Richard A. Miller & Associates, for surveyor and agent for owner, for construction of 52 single-family lots on approximately 47 acres. The property is located 1.25 miles south of State Road 200 on the east side of Old Nassauville Road. The item was continued until Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Five new business items approved unanimously included a resolution authorizing the execution of a supplemental agreement between the Florida Department of Transportation and the board extending the completion of the “County Road 115 Improvements Project” until March 31, 2021. The project includes improvements to C.R. 115 from Bypass Road to Henry Smith Road. County Engineer Robert Companion explained that extension is primarily due to provisions for weather days and holidays under the project contract.

A new four-way stop is coming to the intersection of Simmons Road and First Avenue in Fernandina Beach. Companion spoke briefly about the project, and the agenda material says the four-way stop is needed “since the sight-distances are not met for the Florida Greenbook requirements and this condition will only be heightened by the presence of many more pedestrians and bicyclists. ... To prevent an increase in rear-end crashes for vehicles on Simmons Road due to the proposed four-way stop configuration, it is further recommended that advanced stop sign warning, with flashing red beacon should be posted west of the proposed four-way stop.”

A bid received in response to Bid No. NC20-018 for Metal Culvert was rejected due to an evaluation “which found that the culvert requested and required by Nassau County would not be provided by the company who received the bid.”

The board unanimously approved Chairman Danny Leeper signing an agreement for the site of a new school. The agreement calls for a 28.8-acre area, “south of State Road 200, north of the Nassau River, east of I-95, west of U.S. Highway 17, and one half mile southwest of William Burgess Blvd where a school site will be constructed in Liberty Cove Development along with residential development to take place in that area.” The Nassau County School Board
had already approved the agreement.

The beginning of the meeting struck a serious note about breast cancer with the first item on the agenda being a resolution to proclaim Oct. 18-24 as “Breast Cancer Awareness Week” in Nassau County. Yulee resident Jennifer Freeman Suggs was present to accept the proclamation. Leeper thanked Suggs for being present, saying, “We continue to pray for you in your battle, may God continue to give you the strength. God bless you.” Suggs said she received a diagnosis of cancer in January at the age of 38 and encouraged everyone “to do your self-checks, remind your friends and family to do theirs. Early detection is key. It could save a life; it did mine.”

The BOCC also honored Norma Jean Angeles on her retirement after 26 years of service. Leeper called upon George Aviles Jr. from the Road Department to present a plaque. Angeles started working with the Transportation Maintenance Department in 1994, worked in the County Coordinator’s Office, Recreation Department
and finally in the Road Department. In 2011, she was Nassau County’s Employee Volunteer of the Year.