Fernandina Beach candidates sound off against high-density housing on Amelia Island

fernandina historic district sign
'Do we want to be St. Augustine?'

A quirk of the Fernandina Beach charter is that the Mayor can’t seek re-election as Mayor this year, as he’s instead scheduled to defend his City Commission seat. Mike Lednovich is running for re-election to Seat 4, drawing opposition from Dr. James John Antun, Chelsey Lemire and Chris Nickoloff.

The candidates were invited to a Nassau County Chamber of Commerce forum, in which all but Lemire appeared. She had a scheduling conflict. While Antun had the most money raised as of the forum, the candidates have yet to file their disclosure reports covering September. A lot of water, literally and figuratively, passed since the last reports posted.

Lednovich said the main concern for the city is density and the ability to not overload Amelia Island’s roads.

“How many people can we fit in the city and on the island, and can the roads, highways, sidewalks, bike paths, support the number of people you’re going to squeeze in here?” Lednovich said. “I’m staunchly opposed to a couple developer strategies. One strategy, which I’ve seen in my four years (on the Commission) is rezoning property, and the example I can give you are the (Vintage) apartments on 14th and Lime.”

That was rezoned before his time on the Commission, he said, from commercial to high-density residential. Lednovich said he voted against every such zoning change since he won election to the Commission.

In that vein, he said developers are building high-density projects outside city limits and then having them annexed in. Nickoloff, a retired fire service professional, generally agreed with Lednovich on the island’s density pressures.

“I think we need to take a good, strong look at the land development code, and that’s the way to change the density,” Nickoloff said. “Certainly we need to oppose any changes in zoning from commercial to residential, or residential to commercial.”

He said developments off-island are a concern as well, between Wildlight and other, similar plans in progress.

“Wildlight, if you look at it, is maybe a postage stamp — these others are going to be the size of a dollar,” Nickoloff said.

“Where are these people going to come to recreate? They’re going to come here, to the island, to recreate. So, not only taking care of (development here on the island), we need to reach out to our partners. We need to look at the county as a partner. We need to look at the Port Authority as partners, and we need to work with them to help solve some of these problems.”

Antun suggested an approach of not encouraging higher-density projects, but not exactly saying no to whatever an existing property owner would like to do.

“We certainly do not need to be increasing the capacity, if we’re already zoned (at a parcel) for 19 units and jumping to 49 units,” Antun said. “That being said, the units that are there, growth will be inevitable for people to come buy a lot and build a home.”

This comes at a time in which it’s tougher than ever for people who work in Amelia Island businesses to live near their place of employment.

“Unfortunately, I think that boat’s kind of sailed,” Nickoloff said of affordable housing efforts. “I don’t know how we can control that. I don’t know if we can.”

Antun said he was open to creative solutions, like a rent-controlled housing program for teachers. Lednovich said you’d need something like 120 acres of apartment complex to provide affordable housing for a quarter of the workforce in the island’s hotels, mills and schools.

“You can see the conundrum that we’re in,” Lednovich said. “Do we want to be St. Augustine? Do you want to go in that direction, of four-story parking garages and massive apartment complexes?”

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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