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    A large crowd gathered Tuesday to organize efforts against building a new resort on the south end of Amelia Island. Julia Roberts/News-Leader

Development questioned

A proposed new hotel and condominium development for the south end of Amelia Island is drawing attention from concerned citizens before a shovel of dirt has been moved, with residents organizing in an attempt to stop it before it even begins.

A meeting was held this week at Walker’s Landing in the Amelia Island Plantation, drawing approximately 200 people concerned about the 50 acres of forested land overlooking the ocean between The Sanctuary subdivision and Amelia Island State Park.

Creighton “Corky” Hoffman, president of The Sanctuary Homeowners Association, began the meeting by explaining who proposes to buy and sell the property.

He said the current owner and potential seller of the property is the Riverstone Group, based in Richmond, Va. The buyer and potential developer is Signature Land, owned by Steve Leggett.

Hoffman said the land – 48.7 acres at 9300 First Coast Highway – is currently under contract for sale. The Nassau County Property Appraiser’s Office website listed the land’s market value at $41.35 million at press time Thursday.

Hoffman said Leggett’s company is under contract to pay $70 million for the property, but that sale is contingent on some conditions, which include Leggett receiving a Future Land Use Map amendment and zoning changes from the county and completing due diligence on the purchase within a year.

Hoffman said Leggett attempted to develop some property on Boney Road in Duval County in 2014, but the community there organized to stop the development. Hoffman said he talked to the man who led those efforts, Shane Edwards, and asked him how he managed to stop the proposed development, Edwards Creek Preserve. According to Hoffman, Edwards said he hired Jane West, an attorney who specializes in environmental, land use, and real estate issues. West has joined efforts on Amelia Island to stop the south end development and spoke at the meeting.

West explained the process through which Signature Land would be allowed to develop the property. She noted points throughout the process where the public can attend meetings and offer input to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.

West said Signature Land would have to obtain a Future Land Use Map amendment, which requires that the government determine that it is desirable to reformulate the policies in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. 

The first part of that process, West said, would involve the developer submitting an application to the county’s planning staff, who would analyze the application, consider traffic patterns, environmental impact, and other factors, and create a staff report. Then, the application is set for a public hearing before the county’s Planning and Zoning Board.

“This is the first opportunity for public engagement, at the Planning and Zoning agency hearing,” West said. “You absolutely should show up for that.”

The board will then decide whether to recommend the FLUM amendment be transmitted up to the state for review. However, that input is simply a recommendation.

“(Planning and Zoning) are acting simply in an advisory capacity,” West said. “They don’t have a binding capacity at that level, but your input is very helpful.”

Whether the Planning and Zoning staff recommends denial or approval, the application then goes to the BOCC. This is another opportunity for public input, West said.

“This is called a transmittal hearing,” she said. “What they are considering is whether or not to transmit this application package up to the state. If they choose not to transmit that application up to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the entire thing dies right there.”

If the application is transmitted to DEO, that agency distributes the application to other state agencies, such as the Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection, water management and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Those agencies review the application and can make comments,” West said. “There are no teeth in their comments whatsoever.”

With the comments from those agencies, the DEO then sends the application back down to the BOCC, which gives another opportunity for public engagement.

She said the last BOCC hearing is an adoption hearing, when the board decides whether or not to adopt the amendment.

West said those who oppose the development should take advantage of all three opportunities to come to meetings and offer their input.

“Those are your only opportunities for public engagement on this,” she said. “After that, it’s over.”

As to the request of Signature Land to rezone the property, West said the developer has to show a need for the change, and, if the application is denied, the applicant cannot take further action for 12 months. If the rezoning is approved, an appeal can be filed within 30 days of that decision.

West said public engagement is critical for those who oppose the development to succeed in stopping it.

“Your voice actually does really, really matter,” she said. “You have elected officials who are people who listen to their constituents. If you make your voices heard, they will listen.”

Any campaign to stop the development should use social media and have a cohesive, organized message, West said. Statements should be approved by the attorney.

Lyn Pannone with the Amelia Tree Conservancy asked those who have skills in using social media, writing press releases, or other skills that could help the group’s efforts to email ameliamaritimeforest@gmail.com. The group is also looking for contributions to pay for expert analysis, reports and testimony, and professional presentations to present to governmental agencies. Contributions can be made at ameliatreeconservancy.org.

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