Island Issues

YMCA Property Sale An Exercise in Futility Thanks To Two Cantankerous Commissioners

YMCA Property Sale An Exercise in Futility Thanks To Two Cantankerous Commissioners

The local First Coast YMCA in the Amelia Park subdivision wants to sell a dormant 4.42 acre site that it owns there to developers. But a couple of  mulish Fernandina Beach City Commissioners are opposed.

The YMCA says the proceeds from the sale will enable it to expand its rapidly growing operations to accommodate more local folks that want to take classes, and participate in other fitness related programs at the YMCA.

The Y says it has tried to work with the city of Fernandina Beach to utilize the site but there weren’t enough people interested to support their proposals since the city already provides more than enough outdoor programs. There was no demand for outdoor ball field type programs says the Y. The city Parks and Recreation Department didn’t argue with that.

Statistics provided by the YMCA and reported by local news outlets, indicate that over the last five years the local YMCA has added 1,000 new members and many more are expected, requiring an expansion of its current facilities to accommodate popular programs that residents want.

My wife, Linda, and I are members of this YMCA location and consider it one of the best, most accommodating, and professional facilities that we have ever experienced. In fact, this facility is more like an exclusive country club than a YMCA, providing Champagne programs at beer prices. We do not live in Amelia Park.

The folks who want to buy the Y’s acreage are the same folks that originally developed and built the hugely successful and attractive Amelia Park subdivision. They want to build more homes on the Y’ s 4.42 acre site. The Amelia Park development has become so popular that real estate agents are currently using social media and mailings to ask residents there if they want to sell their houses, saying they have buyers.

Residents of Amelia Park don’t have a problem with the sale of the Y’s site, which is currently being used for dog walking, whacking golf balls, and as a residence for the homeless, who residents say are making many area residents skittish. The Amelia Park Home Owners Association (HOA) unanimously approved of the Y’s decision to sell the property and build more homes.

But there are two irrational and uninformed people who are not members of the YMCA and don’t live in Amelia Park who are opposed — City Commissioners Chip Ross and Vice Mayor Len Kreger — probably the least qualified and most petulant people on Amelia Island when it comes to property rights. These two argue against the Y’s sale of its property, offering no options other than to just let it sit idle. They don’t live there but that doesn’t matter to this duo, who react to the term “property rights” the way Linda Blair’s character in the Exorcist reacted to Holy Water.

Let’s take Commissioner Kreger first. He has no empathy for local property owners because he doesn’t own any property on Amelia Island. He lives in a rental home. Therefore he doesn’t pay real estate taxes, school taxes or any other taxes that property owners in Amelia Park or anywhere else here do. Yet he votes on what taxes property owners should pay and has the audacity to tell folks what they can and can’t do with the property they own.

The founders of this country were on to something when they originally said that only those who own property should be allowed to vote. This loopy Kreger guy champions the rights of sea turtles ahead of the island’s property owners, constantly promoting programs to protect the critters and prosecute those that may harm them, even if it innocently means they may have left a porch light on, attracting the dimwitted creatures who can’t distinguish the moon from a light bulb.

Kreger admires the living situation of sea turtles and believes humans should emulate it. He views property owners as “useless eaters” who need to make way for any endangered critter that may wander in their direction. Here’s what he had to say about the YMCA property: “It is rezoning to sell houses. What we’re getting is a lot of rezoning, people buying property to build houses. At some point I am concerned that it is not in the best interest of the city.”

Kreger’s a poster boy on why it’s so important to vote in local elections, otherwise we’ll be saddled with more fruitcakes like him. If sea turtles could run for public office instead of people like Kreger, we’d have logical discussions on property rights instead of the current ones that are like debating with a guy who has attention deficit disorder. Kreger is a petri dish of nutty ideas that make California’s left wing elected officials almost look sane.

Next is Commissioner Chip Ross, a mean-spirited champion of property rights only when it involves his own property. This is a guy who is synonymous with indignation and hypocrisy. For example here’s what this cranky gasbag said about the Y’s proposed property sale: “I don’t think putting in expensive houses is a good way of dealing with homeless people. They are good people. They live here too.” Ross said this after being told that residents of Amelia Park were afraid of the people they encountered coming out of the woods onto the Y’s property… in other words, homeless vagrants. This coming from a guy who had no problem late last year leveling a law suit that forced his neighbors, a local couple and their special needs son, into homelessness.

John and Teresa Sauer, and son, John Jr., spent thousands of dollars and Thanksgiving in a hotel because of legal actions taken by then Fernandina Beach City Commission candidate Ross that forced them to vacate their renovated historic district house.  

The Sauer family bought their house in Fernandina Beach’s historic district near Ross’s house, and spent between $80-90,000 renovating it. In addition to booting the Sauer family out of that home, the suit filed by Ross also cost the city’s tax payers $20,000. Ross didn’t care and said so in a letter to the editor in the News-Leader.

Why did Ross do it? Mr. Sauer thinks it may have something to do with Ross believing that his newly renovated residences on North 2nd Street and Broome may hinder Ross’s view of the river from his home on North 3rd Street, about a block from the Sauer house.

Ross says he filed the actions to contest whether amendments to the City’s Comprehensive Plan in June 2017 were in compliance with Florida Statute. Really? Or did he do it because he has a nasty track record of similar activities in previous residences in Maryland? Locally he was booted off the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) because he couldn’t get along with other members. This guy is in a constant state of outrage.

The court didn’t agree with the Ross suit that impacted the Sauer family and  on November 9 Florida Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk found that Ross’s challenges were based upon “inaccurate contentions.” The Sauer’s are back in their home but Ross’s suit cost them a lot of money, heart ache, anxiety and inconvenience.

Ross also challenged a planned 224-unit apartment development at South 14th St and Lime, saying the site is a protected wetland, when in fact it is a stagnant field, used by vagrants and as a dumping ground that lacks proper rain runoff.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has since given the OK for property owners to proceed.

Despite all of this Ross won election to the City Commission because only 20 percent of the electorate bothered to vote.

Kreger and Ross are examples of how voter apathy can wreck havoc on a community.


The News Wrecked: The fourth edition of the satirical Amelia Island News Wrecker is at the printers and is expected to be delivered to restaurants, bars and shops on Amelia Island and in Yulee next week, just prior to the Shrimp Festival parade. The tag line for the paper is “Amelia Island’s sacred cows make the best burgers” and its purpose is to generate laughs without resorting to obscenities and vulgarity. The only thing that isn’t off limits is bad taste. The News Wrecker pokes harmless fun at the island’s small but vocal liberal and far right wing populations, local governing bodies, local news gathering organizations, and other area sacred cows. The paper is free proving the old adage “You get what you pay for.”


Speaking Of Turtles: My pal Jeff McDowell tells me there’s a new Kayak/Stand-up Paddle board (SUP) outfit preparing to get underway in Nassau County. Called Turtle Tides Amelia,  it will feature both rental gear and guided eco-tours. More detailed information will be forthcoming prior to its May Post-Shrimp Festival launch.

Jeff tells me that Turtle Tides already has successful operations in both St. Simon’s and Jekyll Island to our north, and they are anxious to bring their  unique approach to exploring the back waters to Amelia Island and other Nassau communities.

What makes Turtle Tides Amelia unique says Jeff is its free pick-up and delivery of kayaks or SUP boards  to a customer location. The personable Mr. McDowell says he’ll be conducting guided eco-tours  in the near future and with his knowledge of the local history, flora and fauna, it should be a fun and informative way to enjoy being outdoors while at the same time getting some exercise and entertainment out on the water. Call (904) 468-3882 for more information.


Hospitality Help Wanted Department: A number of new restaurants and bars will be opening here within the next two to three months and based on the numbers the owners have quoted to me these eateries and watering holes are going to be seeking more than 200 employees including, cooks, servers, bartenders, managers and more. And that’s not counting Salt Life, a massive bar and restaurant under construction at Main Beach. Current restaurants are constantly advertising for help and one hotel proprietor told me that workers are so scarce he may have to raise starting wages to attract qualified employees. He added that room rates may also go up to cover those anticipated costs. All of this is a sign of a good economy, and if we can keep leftist government loonies from meddling, the market will take care of itself very nicely, thank you.


Drinking, Dinning & Dancing: I’m told by those in charge that beer at the 318 Centre St. Amelia Tavern is selling so fast that it has outstripped production and storage capacity and the  Centre Street brewery, pub and eatery will be adding additional facilities to handle the demand. How good is it? Well, the Tavern’s beer recently won first prize at the Florida State Craft Brewers’ Association meetings in Tampa, topping 350 other brewers. And speaking of beer, the popular PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden at 12 South 2nd Street recently hit an all time high of 120 different beer brands on offer — draught, bottles and cans. So, if you want to try an unusual domestic or imported beer ask local expert and Pajamadave Voorhees’s fiancé, Zan Maddox, to recommend one. When it comes to beer this lady knows what she’s  talking about as she also brews beer as a hobby at home. The new Shuckers, which sits at the northwest corner of Shave Bridge on Wade Place Road, that also leads to VFW Post 4351 and Down Under, is scheduled to open the end of May says owner Eileen Teston-Seger. The new location will feature an outdoor patio with a bar seating 20 or more, a stage overlooking the Intracoastal, a fire pit to roast oysters as well as table seating. There also will be live music Thursday through Sunday. Total indoor and outdoor seating will accommodate 235 with full bars inside and out. The old location at  942699 Nassauville Road in Yulee will remain open and will focus on chicken items. It has been suggested that Ms. Teston-Seger rename that eatery “Cluckers“, an idea that I think has merit. Pogo’s Kitchen, the latest in Dr. Robert Hogan’s island restaurant portfolio is scheduled to open May 15th with a menu dominated by some very interesting seafood offerings including two I’m anxious to try — a low county boil that includes lobster and a shared plate of blackened catfish. The most interesting appetizer is a boiled peanut hummus. Pogo’s is located at 1408 Lewis Street, near the Plantation, just off A1A, the former site of Gourmet Gourmet, next to the fire station. I hear that southern food restaurant, Lagnaippe (a Creole term meaning “a little something extra”), located next to the Harris Teeter shopping strip, is expected to open late May or early June once all required permits are secured. Brian and Melanie Grimley, owners of  Lagnaippe, have sold their 11 South 7th Street Lulu’s at the Thompson House restaurant in downtown Fernandina Beach with closing expected to take place this Monday, April 30. The Grimley’s will assist the new owners as long as necessary with what I understand are few changes planned to the current successful menu. I stopped by 801 Kitchen & Bar , 801 Beech Street (the corner of South 8th St.), this past Tuesday and was glad I did as I’d almost forgotten how much fun it is when piano man John Springer is performing. Sit at the cozy bar or a table with family and friends and enjoy a great menu, very reasonable prices, and John’s more than enjoyable tunes, prattle, and incredible recall of songs. John plays there 7-10 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Also, if you are not impressed with bartender Austin Hammond there’s something wrong with you.


Les Marshall - 03. May, 2018 -

What am I missing? The FBCC has approved two new housing developments, one off of Citrona and one abutting Ft. Clinch (that will require gopher tortoises to be relocated–my god, the horrors!). According to the FBCC a week ago, “we have enough expensive homes on the Island”. Why the sudden reversal? Why the reluctance to add an additional 17 homes to beautiful Amelia Park? I thought we were all about saving green space. Are these two new developments replacing an asphalt parking lot or will trees have to die. Does the FBCC have some objection to the Y and/or the developers at Amelia Park???

Les Marshall - 01. May, 2018 -

The silence is deafening!

Robert Steele - 28. Apr, 2018 -

I agree with your commenter: if everyone who prattles on about the “plight of the homeless” would just take one home, there wouldn’t be any.

Likewise, for everyone who suggests that we throw open the borders and welcome refugees without limit, I say, “Great! How many can we put you down for?”

Anne - 28. Apr, 2018 -

Champagne, not Champaign.

Les Marshall - 27. Apr, 2018 -

For those who argue to maintain the Y’s property as intended (greenspace for the conservationists and some homeowners/recreational playing fields for Comm Kreger), be careful what you wish. Since Comm Kreger argued the Y just didn’t try hard enough to establish a soccer program, my suggestion is to add additional fields (lets say, 2 more soccer and 2 softball) on the property (one just isn’t enough for a full program) with the necessary parking and grandstands, and of course, lighting for night time activities would be nice. Since I doubt the Publix shopping center would permit access to such a sports complex thru the back of their property, the access road would have to be off Lakepark Dr, thru Amelia Park. After all, the property is zoned recreational and there should be no objection adding more recreational facilities. As for the homeless issue, I note you never see homeless in the downtown/historic district or anywhere near Comm Ross’ property–why is that? Want to solve the local homeless problem? Then offer to take some of them (or refugees for that matter) into your home. Which brings me to my next suggestion. This property could easily support a homeless “encampment” which could be made more permanent. Or perhaps, better, how about the Town Square in Amelia Park? There’s already a sheltered area there. These alternatives make the developers’ proposal look much more attractive. The developers did a tremendous job with Amelia Park and I expect they will continue in that vein making this area just as nice–a good use of an unused property.

Dave L - 27. Apr, 2018 -

Sorry Dave, but I agree with Coleman and others on this issue. This property was promised to be for recreational/conservation uses and it should remain so. The developers simply want to build some more units ($$$). There is a reason that City owned property zoned in such a manner requires a public vote before the property can be sold.
Don’t disregard the homeless issue as it will likely become more and more of any issue. To Jeff’s question, there is no homeless shelter on the island although during extreme cold weather at least one of the local churches provides an overnight shelter for the homeless.
Happy Shrimp Festival and look forward to the News Wrecker and catching up on the Port’s plans to build a bridge from Centre Street over to St. Mary’s!

Coleman Langshaw (Amelia Park Property Owner, City Taxpayer and Regular Voter - 27. Apr, 2018 -

When the Amelia Park (AP) PUD was approved, it included the green area in question, right? It was understood that this was a condition/agreement, so why now should it be changed just to build more houses? The property owner knew the restrictions and agreed to them buy purchasing anyway…so now, the original purpose should be changed because they can make more money? I own a house in AP and expected and still expect some green space, which enhances the value of my property, because not every inch is developed. What’s next? Should we rezone the common park area so someone can build a few more houses? Just because my HOA thinks its ok, doesn’t mean that some of us property owners agree, but that is the problem with yet another layer of pseudo-government pandering to the dollar, versus sticking to the intent of the PUD.

Sandra Pineault - 27. Apr, 2018 -

Good points above…

Judy - 27. Apr, 2018 -

David, please stick to the facts. ” Just the facts, ma’am”! A small informative background of the people who voted against the sale is helpful. But as usual you inject all this vitriol and great hostility against those who do agree with your thoughts. Your rational sounds great to you but as always, there is another side or future reasons for no sale vote. Granted, you must know much about this island “but things are a changing”

Jeff - 27. Apr, 2018 -

Mr. Ross shows concern for the local homeless- where exactly is the local homeless shelter?