• A map shows the land the North Florida Land Trust recommends the city of Fernandina Beach acquire and preserve as conservation land. North Florida Land Trust and City of Fernandina Beach/Special

North Florida Land Trust lists properties to save

The Fernandina Beach City Commission received a list Tuesday of properties totaling nearly 500 acres that the North Florida Land Trust believes the city should put into conservation. The NFLT compiled the list as part of its partnership to help the city preserve land. It recommended the city initially focus on properties in Old Town Fernandina and along the beach on the north end of the island in an effort to acquire them all at the same time.

The list was broken down into two categories: land proposed for purchase for conservation and land that the NFLT refers to as “areas of focus.”

Whether the city can find the money, offer enough tax breaks or other incentives to make it worthwhile, simply convince owners to donate their land, or successfully use a combination of all three remains to be seen.

Included in the NFLT report were spreadsheets for properties in Old Town and the north beaches, as well as a summary of 452 acres of other lands recommended for conservation, with the addresses of the properties, what the property is currently appraised at according to the Nassau County Property Appraiser’s Office, and when the property was recently sold, if applicable, and the sale price. Most of the properties have not been recently sold, City Manager Dale Martin said.

Referring to properties in Old Town and at the beach, Martin told commissioners, “Basically (the recommendation from NFLT) indicates that acquiring these small parcels on an individual basis doesn’t make sense, but if you have the opportunity to acquire that en masse, it might be worth considering on behalf of the city.”

The parcels on the north end of the island, most of which are on Ocean Avenue and North Fletcher Avenue, total 10.77 acres, with a value of $189,700. Of the 29 parcels on the list called “Recommended Parcels (Beach),” 13 have a land use description of submerged lands, 11 are designated vacant residential and five are designated as sewage disposal or solid waste. None of the properties has a recent sale listed.

A list of 23 parcels in Old Town – 3.08 acres in total – recommended for conservation are all vacant residential lots with a total value of $1,016,972. None has a recent sale listed.

Other recommended parcels include 301 acres of mostly marshland abutting the western boundary of Fort Clinch State Park.

Martin said that a large portion of Egans Creek north of Atlantic Avenue is privately owned, and that NFLT believes the property to be the most critical to acquire. 

The list of properties recommended for acquisition totaled 13 parcels, 452.3 acres, with a total value of $1,290,588. Eight of the parcels are vacant residential, four are designated as sewage removal and solid waste, and one is a vacant commercial property. One of those properties, on First Avenue, was sold in 2016 for $275,000.

Martin said the plan is part of a goal set by the City Commission to have a list of properties and funding plan for acquiring those properties in place by May of this year.

Importance of dune integrity

Also at the meeting, Frank Hopf, a coastal geomorphologist, spoke about the city’s beach walkovers. Hopf previously presented the city with a plan to protect the beach’s dune system.

The city recently closed 12 of the walkovers that were determined to be unsafe after a study conducted by Gillette & Associates. Three of those have been, or are in the process of being dismantled, while the others are being considered for repair.

Mayor Johnny Miller asked Hopf to talk about the beach walkovers, which are intended to protect the dunes on the beach.

Hopf explained the “foredune,” the closest one to the water, is the most critical for protecting the city from wind and water. He said none of the walkovers cross over that dune successfully.

“The only way people can really safely access the dunes at the beach without doing some damage are those private individuals, about 30 of them, who have built all the way out, over the foredune and down to the water,” Hopf said. “The rest of us are doing some damage, even when we use the crossovers, even the ones at (Beach Access) 37 and the one at Sliders (Seaside Grill) and the one at North Park. We still have to go through that foredune, and we are doing some damage.”

He said that his plan to take out some walkovers may not put the dune at risk, with the exception of the walkovers at beach accesses 2, 4, and 6.

“I think we could probably afford to allow people to walk where the crossover used to be,” Hopf said but added that the safest route would be to not allow people to fan out after they walk over the foredune.

“One thing I would add is that we then use some sort of fencing, and perhaps on all of them, to direct people to a certain path, that crosses that foredune at a 45-degree angle to the shoreline and take them down to the waterline before allowing them to disperse so we can continue to preserve as much of the foredune as possible,” he said.

Beach parking

Commissioners also approved on first reading an ordinance that would prohibit parking on the beach from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. At the request of Commissioner Phil Chapman, the ordinance was amended to require that vehicles parking on the beach must be four-wheel drive.

Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley said that four-wheel drive vehicles are currently required for beach driving, but other vehicles often venture onto the sand in the area where beach parking is allowed, at the entrance of the Sadler Road beach access. He said he does not envision the police department proactively searching for non-four-wheel dive vehicles on the beach. If the drivers are issued a citation for other violations, though, a fine could be added for driving a non-four-wheel drive vehicle on the beach, he said.

In other business, the City Commission:

• Proclaimed April 7-13 as National Library Week;

• Proclaimed April 2019 as Water Conservation Month;

• Proclaimed April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day;

• Approved the expenditure of Parks and Recreation Department impact fees for the design and construction of beach walkovers at beach accesses 8N, 9N and 2S;

• Approved a settlement agreement in the amount of $32,716 to the city from VRL Architects for faulty roof repairs on the Fernandina Beach Branch Library;

• Approved a resolution for the city manager to continue discussions related to waterfront development in response to a previous unsolicited proposal;

• Awarded a bid of $59,575 to All Pro Surfaces for the installation of a pickleball court at Central Park;

• Awarded bids of $108,655 and $104,276 to PlayPower LT Farmington Inc. for installation of playground equipment at the Martin Luther King Jr. and Atlantic recreation centers, respectively; and

• Appointed Nicole Kreese to the Code Enforcement and Appeals Board.

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