By: Philip Griffin November 24, 2015 - Tuesday night's Fernandina Beach Commission meeting reminded me of why I seldom attend. What should have been a routine matter before the commissioners to correct an obvious legacy zoning flaw, turned into an emotional plea to “save Amelia Island before it is too late”. Too late for what, I ask? These lots were bundled into an anti growth ordinance that was implemented in 2006 to prevent joining residential lots together and building a larger home on 2 lots or, God forbid, combine a few more and build a new condominium project. With the current restrictions such as setback requirements, height and density limits there are already many residential lots zoned for duplexes that could never be built.
Did I really hear Commissioner Gass say that jobs such as dishwashers, housekeepers and bartenders are demeaning and we should discourage these types of jobs? Excuse me Queen Gass but hospitality service jobs represent a great opportunity for young people to start with and offer part time work for those who chose or cannot work full time. Dissing your fellow Commissioner and other hard working people with this holier than thou rant was demeaning to all those who work in low paying service jobs. Is Intel or Google really going to bring some high paying tech jobs to Amelia Island on these fractionalized lots that we are afraid to combine into 1/2 acre sites? Really?
Four of the five commissioners, with the exception of Mayor Boner, fell into the trap of “doing the right thing to save the island” without realizing the damage done to the tax base and the local economy. Preserving vacant commercial lots that become rotting carcasses does not serve the public interest. These lots are too small to develop into quality commercial buildings that meet all the modern development standards such as ADA parking, landscaping, setbacks, parking, storm water, hydrant and water backflows. The public interest is indeed better served with fewer larger sites with a single driveway and efficient traffic flow. Small commercial sites create traffic drag and are economically unviable below a certain size in todays market. It is incumbent on the Commissioners to rethink this and allow smart development on these few remaining commercial properties. Hotels, restaurants and tourists are intertwined into our way of life and part of what makes Amelia Island special. They are part of the quality of life we all enjoy and should not be put down or discouraged so we can “save the good ole days”. We need to have a functioning economy and a thriving hospitality industry for now and for the future. Please rethink and revote.
Philip Griffin frequently writes articles on public policy and business matters. He is a licensed commercial real estate broker on Amelia Island, Florida and has a degree in Business Economics from Syracuse University.