Fernandina Beach City Commissioners Dr. Ronald “Chip” Ross (aka Dr. No), turtle-guy Len Kreger, island newcomer and commissioner wannabe, Michael Lednovich, and a pair of vocal local insomniacs say they know better than the property owners about what should be done with their property.
American Legion Post 54 at the corner of Gum and South 3rd Street, wants to sell a portion of its acreage at that site and use the proceeds to pay down mortgage debt and support its local charity efforts. In order to do that the US military veterans asked the City Commission for a zoning change to allow housing and commercial buildings on their land, thus making the site more appealing to prospective buyers, despite the fact that it isn’t a very attractive chunk of real estate.
Notwithstanding its location there are already many modest homes in that area that sits across the railroad tracks from the belching, clanging Rayonier pulp paper mill and its huge mountain of wood chips and a steady stream of truck and train traffic. Many others are currently and eagerly building and renovating homes in the area. If these folks didn’t like the view and noise they wouldn’t buy or build. But the nutty commission duo, the newcomer, and a pair of vocal local activists want to protect prospective buyers from themselves, telling the veteran property owners to shove it.
The supercilious, pompous Ross thinks he’s the only property owner hereabouts with property rights. His recent shameful and indefensible treatment of his neighbors — the Sauer’s and their special needs son — cost that family a great deal of misery, money and anxiety in a legal case Ross justifiably lost, but not before inflicting immeasurable financial and emotional pain on the family and costing local tax payers $20,000 in city insurance policy deductibles. Excessive and frivolous legal antics by this petulant screwball also took place in his previous residences in Maryland and were heavily covered by the media there. Ross doesn’t give a rip. As for Kreger, he doesn’t have a clue about property rights because he doesn’t own any property. He rents. And Lednovich, who’s lived here for only 10 months, will obviously nod approvingly at anything Ross agrees or disagrees with. The community would be far better served if this nutty trio wasn’t involved in any decision making process concerning our taxes, property, or anything else.
Ross and Kreger are the clueless pair that recently voted against the YMCA’s attempt to sell a chunk of dormant, derelict property in Amelia Park to expand housing in that award-winning community, a sale that was favored by the community’s residents and HOA. But what do home owners and residents there know about their property and neighborhood? Kreger and Ross trump those rubes even though they don’t live anywhere near Amelia Park. They also opposed a much needed apartment complex that will displace a stagnant pool of filth at the corner of Lime & South 14th Street, that thankfully will be constructed despite this dopey duo’s primordial screams of impending doom. Here’s a foolproof way to ensure Fernandina Beach’s future success, prosperity and serenity: Always do the exact 180-degree opposite of whatever Ross and Kreger say as quickly as possible. Their only default argument is to throw food.
These two narrow-minded commissioners voted against the American Legion zoning request and Ledovich voiced his agreement with them. However, it required a second reading with retired U.S. Marine Kreger changing his position in the second vote to support the majority, apparently realizing it didn’t involve any of his beloved sea turtles. Ross, who would vote against the Second Coming if it was to take place within 20 miles of his house, continued to say “nay.” Meanwhile, Ross sidekick Lednovich, suffered a medical issue during the session and was treated by Ross, a part time emergency room physician at Baptist Nassau, before an ambulance arrived to cart the newcomer to the hospital.
The only people that made any sense during the session were Commissioner Roy Smith and surprisingly enough, Mayor Johnny Miller, a retired U.S. Navy guy, who temporarily tossed aside his “Moonbeam” mantle and sided with the legionaries, saying the rezoning was a good idea. Also voting “yes” was the quiet “Listening Man”, Commissioner Phil Chapman, who proclaimed that the rezoning would give low income wage earners access to downtown housing at prices, he says, would be set below market rate because of the location.
Lednovich is running against Smith in the upcoming election while turtle-man Kreger, is unopposed so far.
Uninformed, unknown, unlikely and hopefully unsuccessful commission candidate Lednovich, chimed in, saying housing developments created through zoning changes are not in the community’s best interest. “We’re turning our city into a place we won’t recognize,” said the guy who’s only had 10 months of living in “our city” to recognize anything. He told the local bi-weekly News-Leader newspaper, that he joined the Men’s Newcomers Club, toured the shrimp net facility, and plays golf every week in order to become better informed and recognize stuff that he fears will soon be unrecognizable. I hear on the street that he was encouraged by Ross to run against Roy Smith, a frequent, vocal, level-headed and refreshing critic of the arrogant blowhard Ross.
And it got weirder.
For example, Julie Ferreira, long-time resident and vocal environmental activist, who says she’s an organizer for the local Sierra Club, says she’s “horrified” by the thought of more people moving into this area where she lives and being subjected to what she says are the “beep, beep, beep” and the “crash, crash, crash” of the mill, which has been there for almost 80 years. Apparently nobody but her has ever noticed it. Ms. Ferreira say she can’t sleep because of it, so I assume she’s lives in a perpetual state of wide-awake horror. She said that adding residential housing will subject buyers to conditions they won’t appreciate if they buy or build a house there. “They’re not going to understand the noises the power plant makes at night,” she says. No, they’re not going to understand the noises Ms. Ferreira makes — day and night.
She didn’t stop there. She added that parking and traffic are also concerns and a “yes” vote would violate density issues. But the most bizarre of Ms. Ferreira’s anti-housing “facts” was her stating that a considerable number of people living on South 3rd St. have been diagnosed over the years with cancer. “Look at old city records,” she said. “That was cancer alley.” It must be very difficult being Julie Ferreira.
And it continued to get “curiouser and curiouser.”
Tracey Escalante, who recently bought and now operates the Hoyt House Bed and Breakfast at the corner of Atlantic Ave. and S. 8th St., nowhere near the American Legion site, is also against the zoning change. This is a woman who obviously didn’t do her due diligence prior to purchasing this 19th Century house. Another apparent insomniac, she says she only sleeps soundly during Shrimp Festival when for two days trucks hauling logs aren’t rumbling by her windows. Hey lady, log trucks have been rumbling by the Hoyt House since the invention of the internal combustion engine. If you didn’t notice that before you closed on the property I have some stuff in my attic you might be interested in buying.
Sanity reared its head when Commissioner Smith rightfully questioned the two “Sleepy Time Gals”, Ms. Escalante and Ms. Ferreira, asking them if they ever saw the mill or trucks before purchasing their properties. He also pointed out that Ms. Ferreira’s cousin and many others recently purchased homes near her. He explained to them, very slowly and articulately, that the city doesn’t force people to buy houses in the area.
“It is very unusual for a person to build houses in an industrial area by a paper mill,” said Ms. Escalante. And it’s very unusual for a person to buy a house that has a decade’s long history of log trucks driving by it to wake up one morning and say: “Hey, there’re log trucks driving by my house.”
Commissioner Smith correctly aimed comments at Ross, and hit the target saying: “Once again this is Commissioner Ross telling people how they should live. I say it again Chip—you’re trying to run this city on what you think—we have to look at everybody. It’s everybody’s city. It’s not your city…. people have the choice if they want to live by that railroad.”
The local News-Leader bi-weekly newspaper editorialized this past Wednesday, May 23, that the city should buy the property from the Legion, use it as a buffer between residential and industrial sites, and lease it back to Post 54. As a tax payer I don’t want the city involved in any more landlord deals at my expense thank you.
City Commission meetings are like a movie or stage performance, and because our money is involved you’ll leave either laughing, crying or scratching your head. But you’ll always be entertained.
Read All About It: If you can’t find a free copy at a local pub, restaurant, or shop, the Amelia Island News Wrecker, the area’s only source of honest, accurate and detailed reporting, is now available on line with color on every page at http://www.amelianewswrecker.com
Lattes & Leaks: I wouldn’t want to be the barista who has to clean the Starbucks restrooms. The liberal Seattle-based coffee company finds itself in the unenviable position of saying it will provide access to its coffee shops and restrooms to anyone who wants to use them, customers or not. The decision stems from last month’s arrest of two black men who wanted to use a Starbucks restroom in Philadelphia. I picture a scenario of a van full of non-caffeine using Mormons barreling down Interstate-95 with one of the women saying: “Honey, me and some of the other wives and 15 of the kids need to use a restroom. Pull over at the next Starbucks.”
Things I Wish I’d Said: “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” — Mark Twain
Nassau County Rebranding: So far I haven’t heard a single positive comment about the Jacksonville Burdett/Ketchum agency’s proposed Nassau County pot leaf/railroad spike seal and the lame “True to its Nature” tagline rebranding efforts. The entire exercise reminds me of when I was living in Atlanta in 1991, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team asked its fans to come up with a new slogan for a wretched team that lost an astounding 97 games the year before. The best entry was: “Atlanta Braves baseball: Better than getting hit in the head with a hammer unless it’s a doubleheader.” Perhaps Nassau County, which is projecting a $11.1 million shortfall in its 2018-19 budget, should go back to the drawing board, save the tax payers $47,000, and ask locals for ideas. And stop the nutty talk about cutting the Nassau County Economic Development Board’s budget and ask its director, Laura DeBella, for her professional advice on the issue — that’s why she’s there. It’s obvious the board is clueless on this issue and the JAX agency’s head, Will Ketchum, is appropriately named — as he certainly did catch ’em, and skinned ’em.
Speaking Of Laura DeBella: In addition to racing around the country encouraging companies to relocate to Nassau County, Ms. DeBella is setting records racing on foot from Boston to Key West. The indefatigable Director of the Nassau County Economic Development Board, won her fourth Keys Seven Mile Bridge Run woman’s category in five years in just under 43 minutes (42:43). This champion of endurance and determination chalked up her Keys win after she had just completed the Boston Marathon, in a personal-best time of 3:01:09 while running through adverse weather conditions. By the way, the Keys race is the only race in the United States that closes a major road (Federal Highway) in both directions during the course of the race.
A Very Proud Pop: Local popular and personable musician, Hupp Huppman, a senior Chief Petty Officer (RSN, ret), offers the first salute to his newly commissioned son, 2nd Lt. Erick X. Huppman, U.S. Air Force, upon his graduation from the University of New Mexico with a degree in political science and his commission. Hupp was accompanied to the ceremony by his gorgeous fiancé Lori Galandia.
Things I Don’t Get: In Venezuela protesters are in the streets resisting socialism while in America liberals are in the streets demanding it.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: This past Wednesday Linda and I stopped by 232 North 2nd Street’s Wicked Bao and we’re very glad we did. This relatively new eatery that advertises itself as an Asian street food site in downtown Fernandina Beach, boasts an eclectic and delicious menu that will have us returning often. They offer take-out and some of the best Asian street food south of Atlanta’s Buford Highway. They’re open 4-9 pm Monday to Saturday and have a happy hour with special food and drink prices from 4-6 pm Monday to Thursday in a spanking clean and beautifully decorated restaurant in a historic building that also features a very attractive patio. Call ’em at 904/775-5577 or check ’em out at www.wickedbao.com. By the way a “bao” is an Asian steamed bun and they are very, very good. Local fun band Island Vibe will perform tunes from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s at the South 3rd Street Green Turtle this Sunday afternoon, May 27, from 2-5:30 pm. The combined ages of the quartet of Alain, George, Loren and Philippe totals 254 years so they’ve had lots of time to practice. The Snack Bar just to the right of the Main Beach Sandbar’s front entrance will open this weekend with a limited menu and I’m told a full menu will begin next weekend including ice cream, hot dogs, tuna poke, sloppy Joe’s and sodas among other goodies. The versatile and personable Hupp Huppman will appear at Sliders today, Friday, May 25, from 1-5 pm, then at the Plantation’s Marche Burette starting at 5:30 with pal Ray. Tomorrow, Saturday, May 26, beginning at 7 pm. Hupp and the Honey Badgers will be at the Sandbar and on Sunday, May 27, Hupp and Ray will perform at Down Under, 1-5 p.m. Hupp is a regular at PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden downtown every Tuesday evening from 6:30-9 pm and on Wednesdays at the Sandbar starting at 6 pm Sean McCarthy, the island’s answer to Jimmy Buffett, will be at Down Under with his band Sunday with free Memorial Day hot dogs ,and doing a solo at PJD’s Monday starting at 6 pm or so. Also this coming Monday, May 28, at 6 pm Gerd Rube, a German-born singer/songwriter from Key West who is passing through on his is way to two months of tour bookings up north, will make a special appearance at the Sandbar. I’ve never heard the guy but am told he’s well worth listening to by folks whose opinions I value. American Legion Post 54 will offer hot dogs and burgers all day Monday, Memorial Day, for whatever folks feel they want to contribute.
Speaking of Braves names Bob Hope, former Braves PR guys during the lean years in the 70s, said Ted told him he wanted the team on the front page of the AJC the next day. Hope suggested Ted tell the world he wanted to change the name Braves to Eagles. Sure enough it garnered front page attention. It also gained, as Bob suspected, a lot of negative fan reaction. So, a few days later, Ted changed his mind and said the name would stay Braves. The PR ploy worked, not just once, but twice!
I agree with Chris. Zoning is used to control growth and make sure a city is manageable and pleasant. Don’t buy an orange and then later complain it tastes like an orange. Its fine to ask the city to rezone but don’t get upset when they don’t comply. The end goal is not to have every inch of space packed with development. I also don’t understand this initiative for affordable housing. Are people living on the streets and need a place to live? Or are people complaining because they have to dive across the bridge to go to work? Real estate is driven by supply and demand. To force affordable housing projects sounds like something they would do in venezuela.
I have to agree with Chris. Property rights are not absolute in that there are constraints placed based on zoning and other land development code sections as well as the FL building code. While I applaud the Legion for the personal sacrifices they made for the country and their continued involvement in community outreach, the “reputation” of the applicant should not have anything to do with the zoning change decision. Eliminating industrial or commercial parcels in our city only will hasten the increase in property taxes as it is well proven that residential property makes more demands on infrastructure than commercial property. Time will tell about the pricing and attractiveness of the residential structures that might be built. The sales price of the land will be a major factor in the pricing of the houses. Justifiably so, the Legion wants to get as much money from the sale as possible, but the higher the price, the more expensive the starting costs are going to be.
The “smart” developers are the ones developing on county property contiguous to the city limits under more lenient building codes and then they request annexation into the city to secure water, sewer, police and fire/rescue and other city services. Having their cake and eating it too.
I think the new, smaller homes in the area of the mill downtown, built in styles that reflect the historic character of the area, look fantastic and enhance our city. If the new homes are affordable to people who might work at the mill or in other downtown businesses so they are able to walk or ride a bike to work, won’t that help reduce vehicular traffic on the island? Less vehicles result in a better carbon footprint, right? Less traffic is good, right? Don’t forget that these new homeowners will pay property taxes, too. Perhaps work with the builders and developers to leave a line of trees in place as a screen from the plant view, if it’s truly objectionable?
Nutty Amelia Island, should rename it: where jonathan Livingston seagull flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
I am not going to comment on the American Legion rezoning. I don’t have an opinion on that particular request other than to say I doubt it would ever be low income housing despite its location. Generally speaking, I think offering people zoning changes or variences to build more homes on this island is not something the town should do. We want to restrict incoming growth. There is still going to be plenty of housing going in without making exceptions to allow more. The YMCA is a good example. If it was not zoned for housing, I would be against allowing more homes there. I think that was a good decision. Something I notice going on around my home is developers buy a piece of land that is zoned for one home. They then go and get a variance on setbacks and presto we now have 2 homes in the same space. Now, your premise on zoning always go back to property rights. I have heard it from you over and over. You own the property, so you should be able to do with it whatever you want. Might work fine in Kansas but on our cramped island I disagree. The rules we have in place are meant to give us some control over what others are doing so close to our own homes. I personally don’t want twice as many homes on my street. Just like you admonish the complaints about people buying homes when it was well known they would be listening to trucks all night, I apply that same logic to land development. You buy a property that is not zoned for 1 home, please don’t whine you can’t put 2 on it. You should have known that. You said it was going to be a ball field now you want homes, sorry you should have known that. You bought two 100 foot lots next to each other to combine and make a new hotel, sorry the law says no, and you should have known that. Let’s stop offering people variances to do these types of things.