Developer plans hotel, condos on 50 acres by the ocean
A huge parcel of undeveloped land between The Sanctuary community and Amelia Island State Park is being eyed for a major development that, if approved, could include a hotel resort with almost 300 hotel rooms and more than 200 condominiums.
The 48.7 acres at 9300 First Coast Highway is owned by Riverstone Properties LLC, with a mailing address in Richmond, Va., according to the Nassau County Property Appraiser’s Office website. The record says the land’s market value is $36.9 million.
It is zoned Residential General-2 and is shown as medium density on the county’s Future Land Use Map. RG-2 zoning allows single-family dwellings, duplexes and townhouses up to 35 feet tall and multifamily dwellings up to 85-feet tall and seven stories. It also allows housing for the elderly, group homes containing six or fewer residents requiring a “low intensity of care,” churches and foster homes.
“The initial thought process would have a beach club, a hotel, a potential public parking area,” County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin said Monday. Mullin, along with Planning and Economic Opportunity Department Director Taco Pope and Nassau County Commissioner Aaron C. Bell, who represents the district at the south end of Amelia Island, met Friday with developer Steve Leggett. Mullin said Leggett came with his legal and engineering team and presented a “sketched plan that they said was preliminary.” Pope confirmed the meeting between county staff and Leggett.
Asked via email if the property is the largest remaining undeveloped parcel left in private hands on the ocean side of Amelia Island, Pope responded, “To my knowledge it is.”
However, for the project to go through as discussed, the land would have to be rezoned to allow commercial activities and a Planned Unit Development would have to be approved by the county’s Planning and Zoning Board and the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.
“RG-2 allows for structures up to seven (7) stories and 85 feet in height,” Pope wrote in an email Monday. “The Future Land Use Map designation of Medium Density Residential (MDR) allows for the property to be developed at three dwelling units per upland acre. To use round numbers, the property has an existing entitlement of approximately 150 dwelling units. This could change in either direction once final surveys are executed and wetlands are delineated. In theory, based on existing entitlements, the site could be developed with roughly 150 dwelling units allocated between a series of seven (7) story buildings standing 85’ in height.”
Mullin confirmed Monday that Leggett said he wants a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, but the plans are “conceptual” at this point.
The county’s ordinance says “a PUD must demonstrate, through the approval process, that it achieves desirable goals that would not be possible in a conventional zoning district.”
Neighbors of the property became concerned after noticing a road blazed onto the property and some trees in the maritime forest on the land being marked.
“According to Mr. Leggett, as part of his due diligence he is executing a comprehensive tree survey,” Pope wrote in an email. “According to Mr. Leggett’s team, underbrush that was removed was done so to allow the survey team access into the site and to provide for lines-of-sight to execute their work. After receiving messages from concerned citizens, county staff conducted a site visit and found no violation of the Amelia Island Tree Protection Ordinance at the time of inspection. According to Mr. Leggett, the markings are for tree inventory purposes only.”
Leggett did not respond to a News-Leader email asking for information about the project.
The News-Leader did receive a “joint press release” about the property from attorney Emily Pierce with Rogers-Towers: “Amelia River Resort Development, LLC is under contract with Riverstone Pro-perties, LLC to purchase the approximately 50-acre site on the ocean at the south end of Amelia Island. After owning the property for more than twenty years, Riverstone chose Amelia River Resort to be the developer of this property through an exhaustive formal selection process. Currently, Amelia River Resort is undertaking all of the site studies and investigations which are customary in any purchase of property in Florida (including tree survey, wetlands survey, archaeological survey, geotechnical/soils studies, drainage/floodplain studies, etc.). Amelia River Resort also has hired EDSA, a planning firm with significant experience in Florida as well as internationally, to consider planning alternatives for the property. Because the site studies will form the basis of any plan, we are not in a position at this time to comment on any specific planning, design, or development concepts. However, we look forward to communicating and engaging with the Amelia Island community to seek its input in the very near future.”
A message left for Bell asking for his reaction to the project in his district was not returned by the press deadline.
Reached for comment on the plans to develop the property, the Amelia Tree Conservancy issued the following statement: “… Whether it is developed into single-family homes, condos or a hotel, this will add to the environmental degradation of the island. This is one of the very few substantial segments of maritime forest left on this island. We will be losing the beauty of the maritime forest, one of the primary features creating the ‘sense of place’ on this island, one of the main reasons so many people visit, move here, and love this island. We will be losing the cooling effect of those trees, their removal of pollutants, the protection they provide us from storm winds and their management of storm water runoff. We really don’t know what impact removal of this forest will have on our ability to withstand hurricanes. On a barrier island made largely of sand, our trees are what hold the island in place. ... Development of this parcel should never take place. Riverstone Properties, LLC could donate the property for conservation (for a tax write-off), or it could be purchased by the county or the Park Service. We have discussed this parcel with the county and North Florida Land Trust, but the $50-60 million price tag was too high. This development is a serious loss to our community. Based on Mr. Leggett’s proposal, Amelia Tree Conservancy will not support any change in zoning to allow for increased density.”
Leggett recently told the Fernandina Beach Airport Advisory Commission that he is also interested in building a 220-room hotel with a 30,000-square-foot parking garage on municipal airport property adjacent to the Amelia River Golf Club. Leggett has a contract to assume the lease on the property from Amelia Underwriters.
Editor's note: The street address of the property has been corrected. The number was correct, the name of the road was not.