FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – City Hall in Fernandina Beach was a packed house Monday, where the controversial Amelia Bluff development was a big topic of discussion.
The dispute is over whether the property should remain as it is or be turned into a neighborhood. The property is 6.4 acres and sits across from Fernandina Beach High School. It backs up to Egan's Creek Preserve.
Environmental groups are fighting the development. Their big argument is that the city did not properly approve it.
Lyn Pannone, the founder and vice chair of the Amelia Tree Conservancy, told News4Jax the city changed the designation of the piece of land when it was meant to stay as conservation land.
The land was designated conservation land, but the city argued that was a mistake, so it was changed to residential land once a developer showed interest.
"This indeed was supposed to be conservation land and not a mapping error or scrivener's error," Pannone said. "You can tell by the testimony from this morning, the land is ecologically sensitive, and therefore they did intend it to be conservation land."
The development passed 3-2 in the springtime, and many people in Fernandina Beach were upset. Protestors not only filled the chambers but flowed into the street with signs.
Commissioner Phillip Chapman and Commissioner Chip Ross were at the hearing Monday. Chapman voted for the development and Ross voted against the development in April. Commissioners would not talk about the hearing and the attorney for the city declined an interview.
Sen. Aaron Bean's mother, Joanne Bean, a longtime Fernandina Beach resident, said the city needs to switch the designation back to conservation land.
"I care so much about this island. I've raised all my kids here, nine kids. Grandchildren. I want it preserved like it is," Joanne Bean said. "Thank God we've got these conservation groups that are fighting this."
Two hours were scheduled Monday evening for public comment. Those who object to the development were not bashful. They criticized the developers for acting on a handshake agreement, and they criticized their commission members for not listening to them.
"None of us want to be here, but we are here to the end. Very passionate," said Diane Herman, a resident. "And we hope, hope, hope you hear us."
Monday's hearing was the first of four that were planned to be held on the development.