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  • Writer's pictureMike Lednovich

Baptist church partners with Artisan Homes for proposed riverfront condo project on wooded lot

UPDATED 08/08/2023

Amelia Baptist Church wants to partner with a developer in order to build 24 condominium units along the river on property it owns adjacent to the church complex on Buccaneer trail.

The church, which also wants to expand its campus, presented its plan Tuesday to the Nassau County Development Review Committee.

"Technically, the church is the developer, but we're working with Scott Road Partners (Artisan Homes) to develop the community's social and economic growth," a church representative told the committee. They disclosed they were working with developers Scott Road Partners, whose registered agent is Artisan Homes. "Rezoning will allow us to have expansion for our ministries as well as residential, waterfront development."

The committe is an advisory group that makes recommendations to county department heads. Members include development services, planning department, building department and the fire department.

The committee agenda said:

"Amelia Baptist Church (ABC) owns 10+ acres in Nassau County. ABC is proposing to rezone its property to a Planned Unit Development (PUD). The rezoning will allow the expansion of our current church and ministries as well as a residential, waterfront development."

A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is a zoning district that allows for a variety of residential, commercial, and open space uses within a single development.

The PUD plans show three buildings of 8 units each along with an extensive covered parking garage structure.

The property is currently listed as: Existing FLUM/Zoning: Medium Density/Residential Single Family 1.

The committee chair told the church it would have to file a PUD application with the Nassau County Planning Department. The PUD request would then reguire two meetings of the County Planning and Zoning Board in which the public could speak. If approved, the project would go to the County Commission for a vote.

"Sickening. My mother designed and built the colonial home that is on that site, back in 1967. We were the first residents there. Such a shame to see more of Fernandina being pillaged and plundered," wrote Brian Rowland on this blog post.

The agenda item was noted by the Amelia Tree Conservancy

"Amelia Tree Conservancy is greatly concerned with the loss of tree canopy for this project. Loss of tree coverage is especially dangerous on a barrier island; the more trees we remove, the more vulnerable the island becomes to storm damage," said Lyn Pannone, President of Amelia Tree Conservancy. "There are already drainage issues in that area which have been exacerbated by other nearby projects. Tree destruction in that area will result in more storm water runoff for adjacent neighborhoods. The trees along Buccaneer Trail, a canopy road, will suffer as a result. It’s time to put a stop to over-development."

Nick Gillette, agent for the project, told the committee there are several large, mature trees on the property. He was told that the project design would be required to follow the county's tree preservation and mitigation requirements.

"There are trees on the property that are very large so we're trying to cluster the building groups, which are three, around vegetative areas," Gillettee told the committee. "And, we're in the process of doing a tree survey so we're able to massage some of these areas."

He was also told that Article 25 of the County Land Development Code "requires a public benefit" to justify departure from standard zoning requirements.

"We will let the church (respond) showing community outreach and benefit," Gillette responded.

According to the Nassau County Property Appraiser website, the land at 1356 Shadow Woods Lane was purchaed by Amelia Baptist Church on Jan. 3, 2023 for $4.4 million from the estate of Maria Ann Sellers.

In their application to the county, Amelia Baptist Church said "The redevelopment of the church offers the opportunity for the church to continue to give back and serve the County residents as well as create a mixed-use project. To that end additional land was acquired in 2022. The land was owned by two ABC founding members, Larry and Maria Sellers, who helped to establish Amelia Baptist Church several decades ago. After the death of both parents, the four sons expressed their parents’ wish to offer our church the first right to purchase the land and family home.

"ABC entered into negotiations to sell a portion of its property to a third party. This sale would allow redevelopment of the church facilities and provide a compatible residential waterfront community."

A neighbor, Betsie Heuben, who is well versed in planning and zoning issues, offered several technical objections. But first she set the stage:

“This church and the associated property are at the roundabout directly across from the Parkway Grille. It is bounded by Buccaneer and Tanager Lane. The parcel the church is on abuts a parcel immediately to the north of the church. The property value was $4.4 million and act of sale/transfer was in March of 2023 for the Maria Sellers Revocable Trust to the church. It is the large parcel forming the terminal dead end of Shadow Woods Lane.”

A preliminary lot plan submitted to the county sketches in buildings for various activities, and also several condominium buildings. The condos, she said, present a problem because Shadow Woods Lane would have to be opened up to allow for emergecy vehicles.

But more seriously, she said, much of the property is in flood and evacuation zones. Additionally, she points out, most of the properties in the area are serviced by septic and wells – but the county has mandated no further well/septic service in Amelia Island neighborhoods. And water and sewer service are not yet available in that neighborhood.

The area zoning is primarily single-family housing, she points out, but the preliminary plan indicates three condominium buildings on the property. That would be legal under a rezone, but would cause traffic congestion, she says.

This is the link to the agenda and documents:

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