Fernandina Beach officials divided over fate of greenspace

After March 19 meeting, commissioners punted Amelia Bluff vote to April 16

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – City commissioners in Fernandina Beach are divided over a proposal that would change the rules governing a piece of land previously set aside for conservation, paving the way for development.

As protesters crowded city hall March 19, calling for the board to stop a plan that would allow Amelia Bluff to move forward, commissioners agreed to delay a vote on the land’s designation until next month.

At the heart of the issue is a property near Fernandina Beach High School that’s zoned for residential use. But it’s since been brought to the city’s attention that it was originally designated for conservation.

Though construction has begun on Amelia Bluff, a 32-home subdivision near the conservation area known as the Amelia Island Greenway, work is on hold until officials decide what to do with the land.

“We’re not sure what’s going to be accomplished by holding off for a month and then meeting with the developer,” said protester Steve Sandsbury. “I don’t think that’s going to amount to anything.”

Sandsbury, who characterized the postponed vote as “politics as usual,” was one of many residents wearing yellow at last week’s meeting to show his opposition to the proposed housing development.

“We really value the island,” he said. “We love where we live and we’re getting tired of seeing concrete put over parts of the island that we value.”

Sandsbury is not alone.

Though a majority of commissioners – Mayor John Miller, Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Phillip Chapman -- support the change, commissioners Mike Lednovish and Chip Ross aren’t thrilled.

“I will paraphrase Joni Mitchell – we will pave paradise to put in a housing development,” Ross warned fellow commissioners at the March 19 meeting. “I ask you to vote no.”

Reached Monday, Ross and Lednovish hadn’t changed their minds. Kreger said he’s still in favor of the change because he believes a mapping mistake is to blame for the original conservation designation.

Attempts to reach Miller and Chapman for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Developer Wirt Beard told News4Jax he was surprised by the response to the development, noting the passionate outcry he heard from residents who want the land to stay the way it is.

“We did agree to a one-month reprieve, if you will,” he said. “In the meantime, we will meet with (City Manager Dale Martin) and see if there’s any common ground."

Martin, who reports to the commissioners and carries out their wishes, must grapple with the unenviable task of trying to find a solution each of them – and city residents – can agree on.

The matter is scheduled to go before the board for a vote on April 16

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