It didn’t take long for the concern about development of 11 85-foot towers on Amelia Island to turn into a hot-button campaign issue. Nassau County Commissioner Thomas Ford voted to go along with Riverstone Properties’ suggested settlement, and he’s facing two opponents in his race for the Republican nomination in District 4, which comprises the majority of the western side of the county.
“Commissioner Ford is up for re-election,” Charlotte Roberts wrote in a comment in an Amelia Island community Facebook group. “Show your dissatisfaction with his vote by learning about his opponents and vote to show how truly dissatisfied you are. Those who can should make campaign contributions to their chosen candidate.”
Riverstone wants to build 11 towers, with maximum heights of more than 80 feet, next to Amelia Island State Park. The company believes the 45-foot maximum height for that area of the island is a direct attack on the developer and its plans, and is actionable under the Bert Harris Act.
District 3 Commissioner Jeff Gray also voted for accepting Riverstone’s deal and the subsequent towers, but has more time to repair what damage exists, as his term ends in 2024. District 3 covers Yulee and northeastern mainland areas, ending at the Amelia River.
Both said at the time they weren’t willing to put county taxpayers on the hook if the county lost an expected Bert Harris Act challenge in court.
“(Attorney Susan) Erdelyi had said earlier about how costly it could be and what’s at stake here, and that could be up to $30 million spread out over all the taxpayers of Nassau County if we were to lose,” Ford said at the last Board meeting.
Ford faces educator Alyson McCullough and former Commissioner George Spicer. McCullough used the issue in an ad in the local News-Leader newspaper even before the vote, referencing Ford’s earlier vote on the ordinance that led to Riverstone’s lawsuit.
Board Chairman Aaron Bell’s vote, and his quote, bolstered his chances for GOP renomination in District 2, which is the southeastern mainland and the south end of Amelia Island.
“I cannot and will not support the settlement, and my vote will be for option three, where the county tells Riverstone to pound sand and see you in court,” Bell said at the time.
He’s facing a challenge from Navy vet, musician and business owner Hupp Huppmann.
“When the votes were called, Aaron Bell was the third vote that turned the final decision in our favor,” Jan Cote-Merow wrote in the Facebook group Conserve Amelia Now!
“He is up for re-election. He has been supportive of many environmental decisions. I am doing a meet and greet for him in July at Story and Song and I am respectfully suggesting that other people might like to find ways to make sure he gets due credit for his role in being a good steward of our city and county.”
Commissioners Klynt Farmer and John Martin, who both voted with Bell against Riverstone, are next up for election in 2024.