Due Diligence Underway On Last Big Amelia Island Oceanfront Parcel

News of another potential Amelia Island development project of grand scale quickly got the attention of local media and island residents. It’s a really big deal on this small barrier island.

Amelia Island Real Estate & Development

News of another potential Amelia Island development project of grand scale quickly got the attention of local media and island residents. Possibly another Amelia Island hotel with resort-style amenities might be coming. But only if the prospective developer is successful in getting zoning changes.

The Riverstone Parcel

Located on the south end of Amelia Island, the subject property under scrutiny is a big parcel — around 50 acres — owned by Riverstone Properties LLC. However, the parcel is currently zoned residential. According to Nassau County, the existing entitlements allow the property owner to develop around 150 dwelling units. Nassau County officials issued a press release in March 2019 (see at end of article), to further clarify what currently can be built on this parcel based on the existing Future Land Use Map — FLUM.

Developer Conducting Due Diligence, 55-Acre Amelia Island Oceanfront Parcel
Developer Conducting Due Diligence, 50-Acre Amelia Island Oceanfront Parcel

A Really Big Deal

The prospect of another sizeable oceanfront resort is a really big deal on this small barrier island. The Riverstone land is Amelia Island’s last large undeveloped parcel directly on the oceanfront. Not only big in size, but this premier acreage is located in an area of the island known for its luxury golf and spa resorts and high-end waterfront dwellings. This translates into a really big price tag. Reportedly, the vacant land could possibly sell for $70 million if the deal closes. The contingent contract would have to be executed after a satisfactory due diligence process.

FLUM Amendment & Rezoning Required

It appears the sale possibly may not happen if the prospective new owner/developer is not successful in getting a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) amendment and rezoning of the property. Steve Leggett, the potential developer and president of Signature Land, has already met with Nassau County staff to discuss a “preliminary or conceptual” development plan. Reportedly, the developer’s vision includes 242 condos, a 284-room hotel, tennis courts, spa and shops.

Sand Dunes Along Oceanfront, Riverstone Parcel, Amelia Island's South End
Sand Dunes Along Oceanfront, Riverstone Parcel, Amelia Island’s South End

Bordering Amelia Island State Park

The large parcel abuts a Florida State Park, a preserved, forested area and beachfront along Amelia Island’s southern tip. The subject property was likely assumed to be part of Amelia Island State Park by much of the general public.

Interest is stirring locally to find out whether there’s any possible way to save the south end parcel in its natural state for posterity. One public gathering already took place and over 200 concerned citizens showed up.

Private Property Rights

The parcel has been owned by Riverstone Properties LLC for a long time — at least two decades. They’ve been paying hefty property taxes for their ownership. Just in the last five tax years, they’ve paid over $2 million dollars to the Nassau County Tax Collector through 2018, according to public records. As the private property owner, they have the right to sell their parcel to a buyer and make a return on their investment, like anyone else. However, whether the current suitor will attain the required FLUM and zoning changes to make this potential resort project feasible/profitable, remains to be seen.

Maritime Forest

The property currently remains natural. It’s covered by maritime forest, the easternmost side facing the ocean comprised of dunes along the beach.

Amelia Island Maritime Forest, South End Parcel
Amelia Island Maritime Forest, South End Parcel

Building Boom

Changes to the landscape happening around Amelia Island (and Yulee, too), have not gone unnoticed by local residents. Souring sentiment with regard to development seems to be on the rise, a result of the building boom of recent years. This past year, especially, there’s been heightened community discussion — neighbor to neighbor, on social media, as well as those speaking out at city and county meetings. Population growth plus tourism growth equates to noticeably more people around. There’s added traffic on roadways, trees being lost when structures are built, plus more beach-related issues.

It’s been awhile — about eight years — of a rising real estate cycle, the recovery since the epic crash and “Great Recession.” Along with the favorable real estate market conditions (and commensurate development activity), there’s rising concern about how population plus tourism growth is impacting this ecologically-sensitive barrier island.

Holly Trees, Maritime Forest Along Amelia Island Trail
Holly Trees, Maritime Forest, South End Parcel (Along Amelia Island Trail)

Images Seen Here

Some of the photos here were taken from along the Amelia Island Trail, an off road biking path adjacent to the south end parcel (next to First Coast Highway/A1A). There was activity on the property during March 2019. Surveyors were seen on site, conducting a tree survey to take an inventory of what’s on the property, part of the due diligence process. (Ribbon-marked trees do not at this time mean they will be cut).

Looking Toward Subject Property From Trail At Amelia Island State Park
Looking North Toward The Parcel From Bike Trail (at Amelia Island State Park Border)

On the east side of the parcel along the Atlantic ocean, some images here were taken from the beach in front of the subject property. The land sits wedged between single-family oceanfront estate homes of “The Sanctuary,” (a secluded lane of about a dozen beachfront residences), and Amelia Island State Park.

Amelia Island Beach Driving: Vehicles & Fishermen In Front Of South End Parcel
Amelia Island Beach Driving: Vehicles & Fishermen In Front Of South End Parcel

Beach Driving

In front of the subject property is currently an area of beach driving (with vehicle access through Amelia Island State Park). The detached rock breakwater (a particular spot where fishermen go via 4-wheel-drive vehicles), appears to be near the private property’s southeastern edge.

Potential Second Hotel, Same Developer

The same developer has also been conducting due diligence for a second proposed hotel project on the western side of the island near the Amelia River. This other hotel would be located on city-owned property, the Amelia River Golf Club (at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport property).

Red Outline Marks Amelia River Golf Club Property (Developer Is Interested in Building Hotel On Site)
Red Outline: Amelia River Golf Club (Possible New Hotel at Airport)

The city of Fernandina Beach leases this golf course property, and the potential developer, Steve Leggett of Signature Land, reportedly has a contract to assume the golf course lease from the current lease holder. The target market is automobile enthusiasts. In addition to the hotel, other amenities envisioned for the site include a clubhouse, an auto testing road course/track, luxury vehicle garages, car museum, a bowling alley, and Go Karts, according to a presentation made to the Airport Advisory Commission.

Crane Island Development

In this western area of Amelia Island, in close proximity to the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport, is also another area of new development already underway. Crane Island (about 185 acres), is a community platted for 113 single-family homes. The very first home to be completed is Southern Living magazine’s 2019 Idea House, the “Crane Island River House,” that will be open for tours this summer and fall. At least 10,000 people are anticipated to visit Southern Living’s Idea House. The community’s first new residents will be moving in this year.

New Hotel, Homes2 Suites By Hilton, Under Construction, Amelia Island, FL
New Hotel, Homes2 Suites By Hilton, Under Construction, Amelia Island, FL

New Hotels Already Underway

Besides these two proposed new hotel/resorts noted above, others are already underway or planned. Elsewhere on Amelia Island, adding to Amelia Island’s hotel room inventory in the future, are these well-recognized brands: Holiday Inn Express (the proposed site at Gateway to Amelia) and Homes2 Suites by Hilton (under construction on Sadler Road, pictured above). Plus Courtyard and SpringHill Suites (both brands by Marriott are planned near Main Beach, across from entry to Fort Clinch State Park). See previously published article, “New Amelia Island Hotels Underway,” (November 2018).

Some wonder whether there’s a way to possibly purchase the south end parcel from Riverstone. (This scenario would be if the current suitor is unsuccessful in attaining the zoning changes and the current contingent sales contract is not executed). Could a land preservation group, such as the North Florida Land Trust, become involved? Could the state of Florida acquire the property, extending the size of Amelia Island State Park? The high market value of this premier real estate (potentially $70 million), seems a big obstacle. As noted above, hundreds showed up at a public gathering (it was held on April 9, 2019 at Walker’s Landing on the Amelia Island Plantation). Featured speakers included representatives from the Amelia Tree Conservancy and an attorney.

Amelia Island Conservation Groups

Local organizations such as the Amelia Tree Conservancy, the Nassau County Sierra Club, and others are part of a collaboration formed this year, the Amelia Island Conservation Network. Also, a GoFundMe campaign, “Conserve Amelia Now,” was set up in April 2019 for donations. Funds raised by these groups may be used for various local conservation and land preservation efforts, including legal fees for representation in matters. And for studies on traffic impact, hurricane evacuation and environmental/wildlife studies.

South End Parcel News Release

Nassau County’s Planning & Economic Opportunity Dept. (3/14/2019):

“The site is approximately 55.5 acres. The zoning classification is Residential General – Two (RG-2).

The Future Land Use Map (FLUM) designation of Medium Density Residential (MDR) allows for the property to be developed at three dwelling units per upland acre. The property has an existing entitlement of approximately 150 dwelling units.

Based on existing entitlements under the current land use and zoning designations, the site could be developed with roughly 150 dwelling units allocated between a series of (up to) seven (7) story buildings standing 85′ in height.  To do anything else on the property would require a Future Land Use Map amendment and rezoning.

Under existing land use and zoning, a proposed project would require going through Nassau County’s Development Review Committee and development processes. Changes to land use and zoning would also require following County processes. The Nassau County Planning and Economic Opportunity Department has not received any applications for development. Because of that, the specific process to follow has not been initiated.

Nassau County has had an initial discussion with the development team regarding the site. As explained to the County, the development team are currently conducting due diligence on the property including soil samples, tree surveys, etc. which involves a minimal level of site work.

The Nassau County Planning and Economic Opportunity Department is charged with leading long-range and current planning for the community, with a focus on technical planning, implementation and management of the Land Development Code and Comprehensive Plan, development and site plan review, and assistance to citizens, the Board of County Commissioners, County Manager and other staff, advisory boards, government agencies, and the private sector regarding growth and development in Nassau County. For more information on our Plan, Code, or current initiatives, visit www.nassaucountyfl.com/planning, call (904) 530-6300 or email [email protected].”


By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by Wendy Lawson. With background that began at a newspaper, she later spent 14 years in the financial services and real estate industries (managing editor at an equity research publishing firm). She's enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993.