Federal judge dismisses suit by Omni Amelia Island against property owners
Image via Amelia Island Plantation Community Association.

Omni didn't follow proper procedures in first going through mediation.

A fight between Omni Amelia Island and the property owners in Amelia Island Plantation (AIP) ended on one front Monday when a federal judge ruled Omni didn’t go through proper procedures in its effort to defend and consolidate its power over the large south Amelia Island development.

Omni took over the development when it purchased the Amelia Island Company’s assets in a bankruptcy action for $67.1 million 12 years ago. Omni, in its complaint against the Amelia Island Plantation Community Association (AIPCA), claimed the association was making moves to change the power dynamic between Omni and the property owners that would remove Omni’s right of first refusal on property sales within the development.

“The right of first refusal also is a valuable mechanism for Omni to support property values and redevelop Amelia Island in an organized fashion in the event that a hurricane or other major catastrophe destroys Amelia Island, or parts thereof, resulting in mass sales by the residents,” according to Omni’s complaint against AIPCA.

The property owners also wanted to dial back Omni’s power on the AIP Architecture Review Board.

“It is precisely because homeowners and not Omni own our homes that concern has been raised regarding Omni chairing the Architecture Review Board and Omni retaining first right of refusal on home sales,” Fernandina Beach resident Kathy Kirwan wrote in a letter to the editor in January to the News-Leader newspaper.

“With regard to the Architecture Review Board, it is wholly without precedent to have a resort property wield influence over homeowners and the exteriors of their property. Florida statute currently requires developers to turn their Architecture Review Board processes over to the homeowners once a development is substantially complete. Certainly a review board serves a vital role. In my opinion, though, it should be managed and staffed by homeowners, as is the case in virtually any comparable community in this country.”

Property owners also argue when Omni has used its right of first refusal, it was to buy condos to use as rentals that negatively affected values for adjacent properties.

In pursuing this action against AIPCA, Omni also filed notice of a pending suit (lis pendens) on the 2,100 properties within Amelia Island Plantation, which didn’t go over well.

“Omni seeks a declaration from the court that fails to join real parties in interest, yet it clouds title to those same property owners’ real estate through this very same lawsuit by recording the lis pendens,” according to the AIPCA motion to dismiss. “Not only are the property owners interested parties, their interests are at the core of the matters herein.”

In his ruling, signed Thursday and filed Monday, U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger wrote that Omni didn’t follow proper procedures in first going through mediation.

“The statute requires a written pre-suit mediation demand ‘in substantial conformity’ with the statute’s suggested form,” according to the order.

“The form is several paragraphs and must contain, inter alia, a notice of cost sharing, certain deadlines and a list of suggested mediators. The bottom of the form requires the signature of the responding party and the statute lists mailing requirements. Omni’s letter does not contain any of these elements. Amelia Island’s motion is due to be granted.”

As a result of that motion being granted, the lis pendens had to be discharged, which the Judge did, along with directing the Clerk to close the case.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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