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Vote approving Fernandina Beach development doesn't end controversy

Decision on Egans Creek met with cries of concern, anger from public

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – A 3-2 vote Tuesday night by the Fernandina Beach Commission to approve a 32-home development on land formerly set aside for conservation has not settled the issue for area residents.

The development off Citrona Drive known as Amelia Bluff has been a hot topic in for months as it sits next to the Egans Creek Greenway, a protected area of more than 300 acres. The crowd of opponents at the meeting spilled out onto the sidewalk.

After hours of public input, there were audible groans when the measure passed.

Christy Le Lait said she couldn’t believe the commission went against the will of the citizens.

"All of Fernandina it seemed had been showing up, had been writing letters to the editor, have been calling, had been emailing, had been begging (the commission to) do the right thing," Le Lait said.

Commissioner Ronald Ross, who voted against the development, said he is concerned that the city continues to develop land without regard for conservation.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who voted to support the project, believes the protestors are misinformed. 

"I voted the right decision both first and second reading," Kreger said. "I am convinced by research and personally looking at the property and ensuring that the conservation line was drawn in error."

Kelly Gibson, the city’s planning director, told the commission the developer moved forward under direction from her predecessor, who thought the land use designation was a mapping error. 

The city's 2020 land use map shows 7% of Nassau County is designated conservation land. Within Fernandina Beach city limits, 17% is designated for conservation and an additional 25% for open recreation space. That's 42% of the city that cannot be developed.

Locals want to keep it that way.

"We are not thinking ahead. We are not planning ahead. We’re not planning for the future," Le Lait said. "It’s like we just want to give away everything that is special about this island."

A group of residents pushing against what they consider rapid development on the island said they are considering filing a lawsuit to block the designation change that would allow the Amelia Bluff development.

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