The Amelia Bluff administrative law hearing ended Wednesday evening after three days of intensive testimony and a public comment session Monday evening. Amelia Tree Conservancy, the Nassau County Sierra Club Group and Conserve Amelia Now! had made an administrative law complaint that the City of Fernandina Beach had violated state law and the City’s Comprehensive Plan in approving a 30-home residential development to be built on land designated as Conservation in the Future Land Use Map. The property is one of the City’s last remaining significant remnants of maritime forest and borders Egans Creek Greenway. The “bluff” is actually one of the two relic dunes along the edges of the Greenway that form the spine of the island and provide significant protection from storm winds and flooding. These dunes are also part of the cultural legacy of Amelia Island.
According to Robert Apgar, attorney for the three local organizations, the next steps are:
- A written transcript of the hearing will be prepared within the next 30 days.
- After the transcript becomes available, attorneys for the plaintiffs, the City and the developer will have ten days to present briefs that summarize the evidence presented during the hearing.
- The administrative law judge, E. Gary Early, will have 30 days to render a decision.
Summing up the three days, Mr. Apgar stated that “We are pleased with the conduct of the hearing. We presented all our evidence, our expert and fact witnesses, our exhibits. We are confident we made a very strong case to support our complaint that the city violated state law and its own Comprehensive Plan in approving the residential development on Conservation land.”
The standing witness representing ATC in this hearing was board member Arthur Herman. The standing witness for Sierra Club was Julie Ferreira. Our expert witnesses included Sean McGlynn, ecosystem management and water quality expert; Rebecca Jetton, land use and planning expert; Robert Prager, civil engineer, value engineer, water resources engineer and GIS expert; and Munsell McPhillips, environmental and ecosystem restoration expert.
Although CAN! was ruled by the judge to lack “standing” to join the legal action, the newly formed organization continued to play a role in the hearing. The City and developer successfully petitioned the judge to prevent CAN! from being a litigant because it was not a legal entity as of April 16 when the city commission voted to approve amending the City’s Future Land Use Map from Conservation to Residential. Created in March, the organization was incorporated on April 30. Our legal team appealed this decision to no avail.
The success of this venture rests squarely on the support provided by members of the three organizations and the community. The plaintiffs’ legal team included, in addition to Apgar, a land-use attorney based in Tallahassee, three local volunteers: attorneys Al Laub and Victoria Wilson and paralegal Pam Green. Members of all three organizations and other community members presented Monday evening. Among them were Margaret Kirkland, Ron Sapp, Robert Weintraub, Chuck Oliva, Joanne Bean, Diana Herman, Laurie Hemke, Margaret Davis, Tayve Neese, Betsie Huben, and Tammi Kosack. A number of other volunteers provided an array of support. It is, of course, the donations of the members of these organizations that enabled us to move forward with this case.
All three organizations greatly appreciate the support of our members and many others in the community in this effort. It is critical that we persuade City staff to focus on long-term planning for the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the island. Loss of our tree canopy is a threat to all three types of sustainability.