Author: Amelia Conservancy

Local organizations file legal action against Fernandina Beach over Amelia Bluff

For Release:  Wednesday, May 15, 2019

From: R.M. Weintraub

904-673-9655

 Local organizations file legal action

against Fernandina Beach over Amelia Bluff

Local environmental- and conservation-focused organizations have filed a complaint with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) that the City of Fernandina Beach violated state law and the city’s Comprehensive Plan in approving the Amelia Bluff residential development on Citrona Drive.

The Amelia Tree Conservancy and the newly formed Conserve Amelia Now! are the initial plaintiffs asking for an administrative review of the city action according to the petition filed with DOAH May 14.  

The Sierra Club’s Nassau County Group will be joining the legal action as soon as required protocols with National Sierra are completed reported Julie Ferreira, Nassau Sierra chairwoman.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorney Robert C. Apgar of Tallahassee.  

The complaint lists ten state laws embodied in Florida Statutes and ten Objectives and Policies of the Fernandina Beach Comprehensive Plan that it claims were violated by the approval of the Amelia Bluff development.  

“The city commission ignored the objections of the public to the loss of this important part of our dwindling maritime forest and the development’s threat to the Egans Creek Greenway,”  Ferreira said in explaining the legal action. 

“We tried to negotiate a way out of this situation to avoid the legal costs on both sides, but we were rebuffed by the city manager and city attorney,” Ferreira said.  “They in effect said, ‘case closed’.”

The Florida Department of Administrative Hearings adjudicates administrative disputes with independent administrative law judges who conduct hearings on complaints.  It is anticipated that a hearing on the complaint will be held in Fernandina Beach in the near future. The administrative law judge typically schedules time during the hearing for public testimony. Due to the filing of this petition for administrative review, the approval of the Amelia Bluff FLUM change cannot take effect until the matter is resolved and work on the site, which has been stopped, cannot proceed.

Background

At the crux of the issue was a conflict between the FLUM Conservation designation and an R-1 designation of the property on the city’s zoning map.  The FLUM shows a large triangle of Conservation land extending from the Egans Creek Greenway into the center of the property.

As the Comprehensive Plan is the city’s controlling law, the Amelia Bluff development, a 30-home project across Citrona from Fernandina Beach High School, could not continue unless the FLUM was changed. The developer, Amelia Bluff LLC, has acknowledged knowing about the conflict but was told by city planners it was a scrivenor’s error that would be corrected. The conservation issue never came up again in the many meetings of the city’s Technical Review Committee, Planning Advisory Board and City Commission.  At each meeting there was a staff report that included the statements that the development is “significantly compliant with the Comprehensive Plan” and is “consistent with the underlying FLUM category of low density residential.”

In November 2018 the new chairman of the PAB, Frank Santry, discovered the conflict and called attention to it. As a result, the city brought an amendment to the Future Land Use Map that would change the Conservation designation to Residential.  At three city commission meetings, hundreds of protestors overflowed city commission chambers and more than 90 speakers voiced their opposition to the FLUM change decrying the potential loss of maritime forest and danger to the Egans Creek Greenway.  Despite the overwhelming opposition, the city commission voted twice to approve the FLUM change on 3-2 votes.  Voting for the change were Mayor Johnny Miller and Commissioners Len Kreger and Phil Chapman.  Voting against the change were Commissioners Chip Ross and Mike Lednovich.

The complaint

The petition for an administrative review of the decision cites 10 violations of Florida Statutes Chapter 163 that it says make the FLUM amendment not “incompliance”with the law: 

* The amendment is part of a “use” that exceeds 10 acres, and therefore cannot be adopted pursuant to the process for a small scale amendment.  The city considered the plan change as a small scale plan amendment which has different requirements.  The Amelia Bluff development is 11.7 acres;

*  The amendment conflicts with and fails to implement the special protections of the Egan’s Creek Greenway, and thus renders the City’s comprehensive plan inconsistent;  

*  The amendment is not based upon surveys, studies, and data regarding the area, including the character of undeveloped land; 

*  The amendment does not ensure the protection of natural resources and the compatibility of adjacent land uses; 

* The amendment is inconsistent with the statutory requirements to protect water, wetlands, estuarine marshes, wildlife, and other natural and environmental resources;

* The amendment is not based on an analysis of the character of the undeveloped land, soils, topography, natural resources, and the suitability of the property for the proposed use; 

* The amendment fails to conserve or protect estuarine waters, soils and native vegetative communities, including forests, wildlife, wildlife habitat, and marine habitat;  

*  The amendment fails to protect the existing natural preservation area of the Egan’s Creek Greenway, its wetlands, and the natural functions of its wetlands.  

*  The amendment authorizes future land uses that are incompatible with the protection of the Egan’s Creek wetlands and wetland functions and fails to minimize the adverse effect and impact on wetlands.  

*  The amendment is not based on an accurate analysis of the effects of the Amelia Bluff drainage system on estuarine water quality.  

In addition, the complaint cites these ten objectives and policies in the city’s Comprehensive Plan that the city’s action violates:

*  Objective 6.05:  Open spaces shall be protected within urbanized areas for their aesthetic, health, environmental, and economic benefits.  The city shall continue to maintain standards in its land development regulations for the provision and maintenance of open space in the community, including in private developments and publicly-owned lands.

*  Policy 6.05.03 Privately-owned open space, such as those within subdivisions or PUD developments, which consist of a conservation future land use or contains environmentally sensitive lands, shall be protected through the acquisition of conservation easements.

*  Objective 6.10:  The City shall protect Egans Creek Greenway for its value as a recreational asset, for its significance as an outstanding natural resource, and for its role in providing wildlife habitat.

*  Policy 5.07.06:  The City shall consider expanding the Coastal Upland Protection Zone and implementing upland protection zones for areas adjacent to Egans Creek in order to protect and improve water quality.

*  Policy 5.07.09:  The City shall prohibit any development activity that would potentially endanger lives and/or harm property, water quality and quantity of any other valued environmental system resulting from an alteration to existing drainage structures and natural drainage patterns.

*  Policy 5.07.12: The City shall require low-impact development strategies or conservation-based landscape planning and installation, water efficient irrigation, and appropriate measures that promote conservation of water resources and reduction of non-point source pollution as part of sustainable water management for new public and private development.  New waterfront development shall be designed so that stormwater runoff and erosion are retained on-site or are channeled so as not to degrade water quality of adjacent waters .

*  Objective 5.08: The City shall direct incompatible land uses away from wetlands, and shall protect and preserve wetlands from physical and hydraulic alterations, in order to maintain the following functions:   natural biological functions including food chain production; general habitat; nesting, spawning, rearing and nesting sites for aquatic or land species; natural drainage systems impacting sedimentation patterns, salinity distribution, flushing characteristics; shielding other areas from wave action, erosion, or storm damage; storage areas for stormwater and flood waters; natural recharge areas; and natural water filtration processes that serve to purify water.

*  Policy 5.08.05 The City shall continue to ensure the protection and mitigation of wetlands…and shall ensure … land uses that have little or no adverse impact on wetlands

*  Policy 5.08.06:  The City shall protect wetlands from impacts of adjacent development, and shall ensure through regulations included in the Land Development Code:

a. Proper siting of development structures and infrastructure, including clustering of development away from wetlands;

b.  Location of buffer zones of native vegetation around wetlands and surface water bodies to prevent erosion, retard runoff, and provide habitat; and

c.  Setback of buildings and other structures from wetlands and water bodies.

*  Policy 5.08.08:  In instances in which development is proposed that is adjacent to a wetland, the boundary of a wetland transition area shall be established by an on-site field survey by a professional biologist or registered engineer provided the applicant and coordinated with the SJRWD, the DEP and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The City shall maintain land development regulations which ensure that the transition area provides a buffer between wetlands and upland development.  Such buffer shall ensure existing vegetation is not disturbed; where new vegetation is required, plants or ground cover native or appropriate to a wetlands transition area shall be used.

The complaint further states that the Northeast Florida Regional Policy Plan identifies the Egan’s Creek Greenway as a “Natural Resource of Regional Significance,” deserving special protection as it is part of the region’s “green infrastructure.”  The Regional Policy Plan states according to the complaint:  “In the absence of consideration of green infrastructure as a Regional system, individual development practices in Northeast Florida can have the unintended consequence of increasing the potential for storm water, pollutants, and chemicals flowing into the water supply and systems, resulting in health risks, flood damage, and increased taxpayers’ dollars to treat the water.”  

ATC 2018 Annual Business Meeting

The 2018 Annual Business Meeting of Amelia Tree Conservancy (ATC) was held on November 8 at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club. ATC has achieved several milestones this year that were cause for celebration: 1) Effective July 1, ATC incorporated as a not-for-profit in Florida and has acquired its own 501(c)3 status. Thus, it is no longer a part of NFLT, although we hope to partner with them on efforts to conserve land. 2) ATC is completing the fifth year of its effort to conserve the maritime forest canopy on Amelia Island. 3) ATC also completed its first video, which will soon be posted to our website, ameliatreeconservancy.org. “The Secret Life of Trees” features Dr. Munsell McPhillips presenting a post-Irma analysis of our unique Amelia Island maritime forest environment. Dr. McPhillips, a biomedical engineer with a specialization in biomaterials, has analyzed and repaired ecological systems around the world. Live showings with Dr. McPhillips and Chris Hestand, our videographer, will be scheduled soon.

Following a review of the purposes of ATC, activities of the organization during 2018 and ATC finances, featured speaker, Pep Fuller spoke on the importance of maintaining and expanding our canopy in the context of global warming and sea level rise. Mr. Fuller is a retired Federal Senior Executive who worked for the EPA and in the Executive Office of the President under Presidents Reagan and Bush. Mr. Fuller was also a principal EPA negotiator for two global environmental treaties as well as the creation of the WTO and NAFTA.

Each year, ATC celebrates individuals and organizations that have contributed to preserving our canopy. This year, the ATC Award for extraordinary service to our canopy or the organization was awarded to the following individuals: Taco Pope, Director of the Nassau County Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity, for his efforts to protect canopy and improve the sustainability of Nassau County; Mike Manzie of Manzie & Drake for their story map of extraordinary trees on and near Amelia Island and their 2009 tree contest; Harry Weisenborn for the GIS work that laid a foundation for the ATC recommendations for land conservation in Fernandina Beach; and Samantha Hoskins for creating and managing ATC’s Instagram account and feed for our website Gallery page. The Voice of the Island Awardfor speaking out for the environment of the island orally, in writing or through photography was presented to the following individuals: Julie Ferreira for many years of speaking out orally and in writing for a safe and sustainable environment; Betsie Huben for speaking out for the environment orally and in writing in support of canopy preservation, land conservation and responsible, sustainable development; and Steve Leimberg, whose photography has sensitized the community to the beauty, complexity and character of the birds, trees, etc. in our environment.

Land Conservation Recommendations: The Short Report

The attached report and maps present several approaches that Fernandina Beach could utilize in developing goals and strategies for land conservation. The purpose of this effort is to identify environmentally sound lands that can function together to provide canopy and wildlife habitat on our island. There has been extensive pressure from Fernandina Beach Commissioners to narrow the original longer list provided to Commissioners and City staff in the Spring.

This list represents only a small portion of the parcels that should be conserved on Amelia Island. Needless to say, the rapid pace of development is a major factor in identifying starting points in this process. And that is what this represents—starting points.

If there are parcels that you feel should be conserved, please let ATC or the City of Fernandina Beach Planning Dept. know. Please consider the ecological status and viability of the parcel, the canopy and whether the parcel is contiguous to other properties that have been or could be conserved.

 

SHORT LIST MAPS          SHORT LIST RECOMMENDED PROPERTIES

ATC at the AIPCA Grand Opening of the Sunken Forest

On February 22, 2018 the Amelia Island Plantation Community Association held a ribbon cutting for the Grand Opening of the Sunken Forest. ATC was invited to provide “chats” on the maritime forest for those touring the Sunken Forest. After a number of years of disrepair, the Sunken Forest has now been redesigned in a very environmentally sensitive way and reopened to residents and guests. It provides an intimate glimpse into the world of the maritime forest.

The Sunken Forest is actually a swale behind the first major dune line, a protected area in which Live Oaks and understory plants like Yaupon Holly have thrived. We can see how the trees have been shaped by the wind and salt over the years. In fact, on the edges of this small forest, we can see where Irma removed foliage, while the sheltered area beneath the trees remained unharmed. A boardwalk with stairs allows us to walk through this swale and up to a dramatic outlook over the beach and ocean. There are several areas where the boardwalk is lined with benches—lovely places for contemplation and communing with the forest.

For the excellent restoration of this sample of maritime forest, we owe particular thanks to Carol Simon, Jim O’Malley, Geoff Clear, Larry Jones, Frank Adams, Jane Sandhaus Packer, Candace Bridgewater, and the Castle-AIPCA Management Company.

ATC 2017 Activities

The following examples provide an overview of ATC activities in 2017:

  • Updating our website and communication tools to improve our communication with members and donors. (ameliatreeconservancy.org)
    • Our site includes an events page and blog.
    • We’ve set up a MailChimp account for email blasts and distribution of Newsletters.
  • Planting several Live Oak trees in Egans Creek Park; watering all of the oaks planted in the park
  • Working on the revision of the Nassau County AI tree ordinance:
    • Serving on the Nassau County Planning & Zoning Board working group.
    • Providing written and oral input on multiple drafts.
    • Meeting with Taco Pope, Mike Mullin, Shanea Jones, Munsell McPhillips & AIPCA
  • A campaign to persuade the School Board to sell the Citrona Rd. property to the City for conservation rather than to a developer. North Florida Land Trust was active in this activity.
    • Multiple written and telephone attempts to meet with the Board and Superintendent
    • NFLT campaign to raise funds to purchase property
  • A campaign to promote public response to the Army Corps of Engineers call for public comment on development of the wetlands at 14th & Lime. The developer now has multiple hoops to jump through.
  • An effort to urge Fernandina Beach to include conservation in its 2018 budget, to return the conservation position for Parks & Rec to the budget and plan for a master’s-level position for the Planning Department for 2019.
  • Distribution of Tree City USA Bulletin 55, “How Trees Can Retain Stormwater Runoff,” to Fernandina Beach and Nassau County Commissioners, relevant boards and committees, and key employees.
  • Submit recommendations to Nassau County regarding the Amelia River to Sea trail.
  • Sponsored Munsell McPhillips’ presentation, “The Secret Life of Trees: Living in a Maritime Forest”:
    • Delivered as the kickoff event for the spring series of lectures at the Plantation through the support of AIPCA.
    • We have repeatedly attempted to get this presented for the Fernandina Beach commissioners.
    • We are currently creating a video based on this lecture.
  • Attended and spoke at numerous City and County meetings.
  • Public Awareness Group (Terri Dean, Mark Dean, Shelly Nordlinger, Janet Chatfield, Berta Arias):
    • Speaking to organizations: spoke at Rotary Club Oct. 6
    • Booths at the Farmers Market: fall date cancelled post-Irma, but have a spring date
    • Created magnets, rack cards & posters
    • Available for meetings and HOA/community presentations
  • Advisory Committee members:
    • Munsell McPhillips has been working with the Nassau County Director of Planning and Economic Development on the revision of the Tree Protection and Replacement Ordinance and other County improvements. She often provides expertise to the Steering Committee and is in the process of converting her presentation, “The Secret Life of Trees: Living in a Maritime Forest,” into a video.
    • Robert Prager provides expertise to the Steering Committee as needed.
    • Dave Holly has provided support and expertise on i-Tree research.
    • Phil Scanlan has been developing campaigns related to trails and removal of vines smothering our trees on A1A.
    • Betsie Huben has organized her community to fight the construction of the NexTower cell phone tower and has been providing information to the Steering Committee.
    • Lyn Pannone volunteered at Wild Amelia & often speaks out in support of ATC efforts.
  • GIS Group (Maureen Goff & Harry Weisenborn) is working on using GIS techniques to identify remaining canopy on the island and environmentally sensitive areas that would help guide us in identifying prime properties for conservation, planting, etc.
  • Fundraisers:
  • “Tree Cruise,” April 23
  • The Giving Tree Campaign at the end of each calendar year
  • Events held by other groups or members to benefit ATC:
    • Celebration of the life of Tom Cote-Merow and his contributions to environmental causes on Amelia Island, Aug. 29.
    • Amelia Island Walk, created and organized by Amy Tompkins; originally scheduled for Oct. 7; to be rescheduled as a result of Irma cleanup
    • Color It Green Giving 2017, Laurie Moffitt
  • Awards (to be announced at 2017 annual business meeting on Nov. 9):
  • ATC Award for extraordinary service to our trees/canopy or to our organization:
    • Peg Lehosit for her Legacy Tree Project in Fernandina  Beach
  • Voice of the Island Award for extraordinary service to the environment of Amelia Island by speaking out orally, in writing or through photography.
    • MaVynee Betsch
    • Joan Bean
    • Munsell McPhillips

Voice of the Island

On Tuesday, Aug. 29, ATC participated in a Celebration of Tom Cote-Merow’s life. Tom was an individual with many interests who contributed to this community in many ways, but he was a strong voice for the environment on Amelia Island. In reflecting on his contributions, ATC was inspired to create a new award, the “Voice of the Island Award,” which recognizes and celebrates the contributions of our neighbors who have spoken up for the well being of Amelia Island, using their voices, pens or cameras. While ATC focuses its efforts on the trees of Amelia Island, all elements of the environment are interconnected and interdependent, constituting an integrated whole. Recipients of this award will be those who have contributed greatly to the effort to protect our unique Amelia Island environment. The first honoree was Tom Cote-Merow. We need for everyone to speak out to our city and county commissioners as Tom did.

Normally, this award will be presented annually in our end of the year business meeting, which is usually held in November. Our other award is presented to those who undertake remarkable efforts to save our canopy and those who serve ATC in remarkable ways.

Tree Care

Prior to storms 

  • Have tree professionals remove all broken, dead, weak and diseased limbs. Otherwise, in most cases, the less pruning the better, particularly as the tree becomes mature.
  • Occasionally, it may be advisable to shorten some limbs to reduce stress on the tree, but this should be done only on a limited basis by a professional.

Pruning

  • Don’t just leave broken limbs ragged because it invites disease and pests.
  • Every broken limb should be clean cut an inch or two from the collar.
  • If the leaders–the main trunk(s)–are broken off, a professional arborist should assess the individual tree based on its age, health and condition. Sometimes you can remove a broken leader and if the tree is healthy and relatively young, a new branch will take over the lead.
  • It’s difficult to replant a tree if it’s over 3 inches caliper unless you have a professional do it.

Planting new trees

  • Plant the right tree in the right place. Consult the guidelines provided by Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org/trees/rightTree.cfm) and FPL (www.fpl.com/RightTree).
  • Refer to the planting guidelines linked the Activities section at the bottom of our Resources page (www.ameliatreeconservancy.org)

Whom should we rely on for tree expertise?

Tree companies often try to persuade us that our trees need to be pruned, whether they do or not. They also often tell us that they have an arborist, even though their “arborist” has no real credentials. These are not the individuals we want working on our precious trees. Loss of trees can be expensive in terms of lost property value and higher energy costs. Replacing trees can also be quite expensive.

The credentialing organization is the International Society of Arboriculture (www.isa-arbor.com). This organization offers several levels of credentials, some of which are quite specialized. The most common and basic credential is ISA Certified Arborist. The highest-level credential is ISA Board Certified Master Arborist.

Amelia Island Walk Rescheduled

Amelia Tree Conservancy Amelia Island Walk, originally scheduled for October 7, is being postponed due to IRMA. We need to allow time for the paths and route to be cleared. Thank you for your continued support. We hope that you, your family, and homes were safe during Irma.

Please email atompkins@anypumpkin.com with any questions.

Nassau County Amelia Island Tree Protection and Replacement Ordinance POSTPONED

The working group set up by the Nassau County Planning & Zoning Board has drafted an updated tree ordinance for Amelia Island, called the Tree Protection and Replacement Ordinance. You will find this document attached. We encourage you to

review the document and provide your input at the public hearing that will be rescheduled soon (This event was originally scheduled for Sept. 21, 7:00 at the County Governmental Complex in Yulee, but was canceled because people in the county are coping with the impact of Irma.)

The working group was comprised of individuals representing various interests on Amelia Island and input was constantly sought from various additional stakeholders, including developers, the Plantation, Amelia Tree Conservancy, the City of Fernandina Beach, HOAs, etc.  ATC was also represented on the working group.

In our view, this ordinance represents a major step forward in terms of updating and strengthening our current ordinance. There are a few modifications we would like to see. We would prefer to include permitting for all residents cutting trees of the size specified in the ordinance, and we would prefer no exemptions for residences outside of the Resort Overlay District. Of course, we would also prefer that no number of palms be equated with shade trees. On the whole, however, it is a dramatic improvement. If it is passed, we will continue to work with the county on further improvements.

This ordinance is also a major step forward in terms of developing one unified ordinance for Amelia Island since a number of aspects of the ordinance are based on that of Fernandina Beach. In our view, some aspects of this ordinance are improvements over the Fernandina Beach tree ordinance, and we will try to persuade Fernandina Beach to match those improvements.

It will be interesting to see how our community responds to this draft. We hope you will participate.

For more information please click on the PDF below:
ATC Tree Protection Ordinance

Jacksonville Makes Progress on Supporting its Tree Canopy

We know that Jacksonville values its trees based on the Emerald Necklace of parks around the city and the fact that organizations like 10,000 Trees and Greenscape of Jacksonville have planted thousands of trees in the city. However, the city had to be sued in 2014 to spend the money collected from development for trees. Now, that case has been resolved. The Times-Union on July 27 (“City Council postpones final vote on term limit referendum,” p. B-6) reports that the city will:

  • Hire an urban forest manager and arborist
  • Pass stricter tree conservation rules
  • Make several changes to better track how the tree conservation money is spent
  • Create a tree commission to oversee the health of Jacksonville’s tree canopy

All of these points except for the one addressing financial management should look extremely familiar to the Fernandina Beach City Commission and Community Development Department as well as to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners, Planning and Zoning Board and Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity. These are measures Amelia Tree Conservancy has been urging the City and County to adopt every year since 2013, and we continue to support these measures. With such dramatic loss of our canopy in our fragile coastal environment, the need has become urgent.

Amelia Tree Conservancy

www.ameliatreeconservancy.org

savethetrees@ameliatreeconservancy.org

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