Amelia Island residents who want to keep tower design standards with lower heights implored Nassau County Commissioners to stand firm against Riverstone Properties, which sued Nassau County in June 2021, claiming the county’s standards hurt the company’s ability to make a profit.
Riverstone owns around 50 acres of land on the east side of the First Coast Highway in the unincorporated part of the island.
“Because Riverstone is located in the RG-2 zoning district and because ninety (90) percent of Riverstone’s Property falls within 1,000 feet of the (Coastal Construction Control Line), the maximum permitted height for the majority of Riverstone’s Property under the proposed Ordinance was 35 feet,” according to Riverstone’s complaint.
“As a result, the proposed Ordinance severely limited the number of oceanfront residential units that Riverstone would be able to develop on the Property.”
The ordinance referenced in the complaint drops the RG-2 permitted height in the unincorporated part of the island to 45 feet, and lower to 35 feet for land within 1,000 feet of the Coastal Construction Control Line. As the ordinance mainly affects Riverstone’s property, its lawyers argue Commissioners specifically targeted the company.
The case is seen as a battle between people who have fought to keep Amelia Island’s small beach town vibe against developers who want to bring the sort of beachfront towers seen in some other parts of Florida.
The matter has sat in the 4th Judicial Circuit without action for months, but residents who spoke at the last Nassau County Board of County Commissioners meeting want the county to stick to its guns.
“It was similar, if not identical to the (ordinance) in Fernandina, and it was intended to be legal, durable and enforceable, in my opinion,” Amelia Island resident Jack Roberts said to the Board.
He recalled the day the ordinance passed, with a full, clapping audience. Roberts said it seems the sentiment among residents is almost fully united against higher towers.
“Now comes Rogers Towers (law firm), representing Riverstone, and they are unhappy,” Roberts said. “They say you must have done something wrong, and their value must have been diminished. They assert this claim, and they’ve mentioned a very big, scary number, and I can understand how that would be upsetting to people.”
Roberts said the Commission did nothing wrong, and argued against the company’s claim that the land lost value. “In fact, we think they can make even more money if they’ll shift their focus to single-family residential, high-end homes,” he said.
Roberts suggested the best way for Commissioners to go, from his experience, would be to hire an independent counsel to analyze the validity of Riverstone’s complaint. If it’s as weak as Roberts thinks it is, that opinion will give Commissioners the reassurance to stick with the ordinance.
Another resident, Tony Smeraglinolo, was in a similar situation, he said, when he served as a public corporation’s CEO. He said he knows how a corporate board would act in such a situation.
“While I, like yourselves, had very competent internal attorneys, we did seek out outside counsel, and I urge you to do the same,” Smeraglinolo said. “I urge you to get an opinion from a law firm with deep knowledge in these specific matters. Ask them to cast their net widely, seeking information from the County Attorney and others so as to consider all facts and the law.”
He added that there should be a report that can be released to the public, which would be helpful in explaining to the public the Commissioners’ ultimate actions, once they take them.
Before any Commissioners spoke, County Attorney Denise May asked that they stay mum.
“Commissioners, just a gentle reminder, this is … pending litigation,” May said, “and I’m still advising you to not comment on it.”