While nearly every part of American life is being impacted by the coronavirus, construction in Fernandina Beach is moving ahead as much as possible, in spite of challenges that range from applying for permits to obtaining materials.
Jake Platt, senior planner with the city of Fernandina Beach, said the closure of City Hall to the public has had an effect on one of the early steps in the construction process – applying for permits.
Platt explained the change led to a jumpstart of the city’s implementation of EnerGov, a program applicants can use to apply for permits electronically. Platt said the city’s Planning & Conservation Department had been working toward a full implementation of EnerGov for two years, but the closure of City Hall moved that plan forward.
“This has kicked all our plans into play immediately, with no trial run,” Platt told the News-Leader. “As of last Monday, all documents coming through the Building Department are electronic. No more paper applications.”
Platt said his department is currently working on paper applications that came in before the all-electronic format was put into place, while putting those electronic submissions on hold until the paper applications are processed.
Developer Nick Gillette of Gillette & Associates has about a dozen local projects under construction. He said his company has not had to lay off any employees.
“We have three people working from home and three people working from the office,” Gillette told the News-Leader. “We are fortunate that people can work remotely and still get things accomplished.”
Gillette said an issue affecting his company is the cancellation of meetings by Nassau County and Fernandina Beach boards and commissions that need to sign off on various aspects of his projects.
“We have several projects that require a conditional use or a public hearing before they can proceed and these meetings have been canceled,” Gillette said. “For example, the city of Fernandina Beach requires that all preliminary and final subdivision plats have public hearings at (Planning Advisory Board) and (the) City Commission. This means that you can have four public hearings just for a plat, no matter how big or small the project is. Without these hearings and because of the time it takes to advertise just to get on an agenda, we have some projects that will sit idle for months.”
Some builders are having issues with logistics, such as getting supplies delivered.
Ron Flick is president of Compass Group, the developer behind the two hotels being built at 2700 Atlantic Ave.
“The availability of supplies is an issue,” Flick said. “Some of our subcontractors have not been able to get some things. We have supplies that come from as far away as Canada.”
He said the checkpoints at the state border also impair the ability of construction workers to come to a job site if they live in other states.
“They get here, but sometimes it’s slow going,” Flick said. “All our subcontractors are going through all the rules for people coming and going to Georgia.”
But he is thankful to be able to continue construction on the project.
“We are blessed it’s still happening,” Flick said.
Gillette said the industry cannot yet gauge the long-term effects the coronavirus public health emergency will have.
“We are still moving forward with most projects,” he said. “In general, people who require services from us are used to a very long permitting process. It sounds kind of crazy to say, but permitting takes an extraordinary amount of time, even when people aren’t dodging a virus. We haven’t really been stopped long enough for us to understand the true impacts.”