FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Two and a half million dollars has been invested to build 30 homes for a new subdivision in Fernandina Beach, but the city commission has ordered the work be stopped after environmentalists said it is protected land. City Commissioner Len Kreger said a mapping error is creating confusion about whether it’s conservation land or residential.
The controversy over land began after 15 acres was purchased from the Nassau County School District by a developer, R.W. Howell. The Future Land Use Map qualified the property at the Egan’s Creek Greenway as conservation land, but it was zoned as residential through the city. The city started giving R.W. Howell all of the permitting needed to build 30 new homes at Egan’s Creek.
On February 19th, the city commission voted 3-2 in a first reading to change the city’s basic land use law from conservation to residential to accommodate the developer of the subdivision called Amelia Bluff. On Tuesday, they will have the final vote.
Conservationists are asking the city not to pass the city’s change.
Commissioner Len Kreger, who voted yes, said it was a mapping error made back in 2011, and that the “conservation” area was accidentally marked too far south.
“This particular piece of property is a buffer zone which can’t be replaced. it helps to protect the existing conservation property that we have,” said Robert Wells, a community environmentalist.
The property in question is about six acres, 40% of the property, that developers have already purchased and started working on.
Wirt Beard with R.W. Howell told First Coast News they’ve spent $2.5 million to date on the property, building curbs and setting up utilities. In addition, 7 homes have already been contracted to build when the property is ready. They said the area they want to develop is not environmentally sensitive.
“There’s a significant buffer between the creek and the areas protected,” said Kreger.
Wells said the land is needed to prevent storm water runoff and residue from fertilizers from getting near the creek and wetlands. “We contend that it was intended to be that way and we want it to remain that way,” he said.
Beard said they are giving the city a piece of the wetlands they purchased for conservation, and $115,000 to go towards conservation as part of the negotiations when they bought the land.
There’s no telling how it could go if the deal falls through, but Kreger said he expects it could end in a lawsuit. “There will have to be discussions, and the city will have to settle,” he said.
“I think there’s a happy medium to be reached,” said Wells. “I’m not sure that I know exactly what that is.”
The city commissioners will make a decision on whether to move forward with the developer at the next meeting on Tuesday.
On Saturday, a group of environmentalists is planning to walk the land at 10 a.m. as a push to conserve the it. The walk will start on the Greenway and end at Amelia Bluff. The walk will cover a total distance of about 1 1/2 miles roundtrip and last about an hour.