In the annals of Florida developer fights, the battle over 85-foot towers on the south end of Amelia Island went the way many others have: in favor of the developer.
The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 to settle with Riverstone Properties for essentially the same deal offered a year earlier. Commissioner Alyson McCullough cast the only dissenting vote.
The idea of no development was never on the table for consideration, Councilmember Hupp Huppmann said.
“I apologize to you for the lack of vision of this county,” Huppmann said. “There’s been no strategic plan or action by the county government the last 20 years to try to acquire this property or preserve it and protect it through donation to the (State) Park system.”
He said another path should be taken to obtain the property instead of “expending resources via an unpredictable and resource-consuming path of litigation.”
Huppmann later made the motion to approve the settlement agreement, seconded by Commissioner John Martin.
Nearly a year ago with different leaders, Commissioners voted 3-2 against settling the case. Riverstone wanted to build 11 towers, with maximum heights of more than 80 feet, next to Amelia Island State Park. Riverstone believed the 45-foot maximum height for that area of the island was a direct attack on the developer and its plans, and is actionable under the act.
A beach access provided in compensation wouldn’t have opened up any new beach to visitors, and was near the south island beach access points a few hundred yards from the north and south ends of the property.
The deal isn’t much different than the last one. There’s a small offer to the county of beach access and buffers, but the heart of the deal is 150 residential units housed in buildings of up to 85 feet tall instead of the previously county-mandated 45 feet.
The county also has to pay $250,000 for Riverstone’s legal costs.
Amelia Island residents filled the Commission chambers and implored Commissioners to vote a different way.
“What’s on the line here is more than a way of life, it’s more than communities and trees and birds and turtles; two-lane roads versus four-lane roads,” Fernandina Beach resident Chadd Charland said.
“This is a question of representative democracy, and whether or not you believe in that system of government. Because here you have your constituency, this community, all of us voters in front of you, saying no to this settlement.”
He said allowing developers to have the upper hand on the will of local residents calls into question the legitimacy of the county government to serve as the will of the people.