Three Nassau County Commissioners Boldly Reject Proposed Settlement With Riverstone Properties

The Nassau County Commission spurned 11 proposed high-rise condominiums on the south end of Amelia Island.

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

— Steve’s Marketplace —

High-rise condominiums often rise to a high level of concern for cities and counties in Florida. 

It’s a simple cause and effect. Once developers can build upward in a high-rise design, the density of an area coagulates like rush-hour traffic on J Turner Butler Boulevard. Look at high-rise excesses in Panama City Beach or Miami Beach for proof. 

This week, the Nassau County Commission avoided a pileup of congestion, spurning 11 proposed high-rise condominiums on the south end of Amelia Island. And our quality of life will be better for it.  

The developer, Riverstone, threatened a $27 million lawsuit over damages if county commissioners enforced their recently enacted 45-foot height limits on new buildings. Yet commissioners boldly stood their ground against the massive lawsuit, telling Riverstone to go stick its head in the sand.  

By a 3-2 vote, commissioners did what most local people wanted them to do. Commissioners rejected the 85-foot-tall condominiums sought by Riverstone. 

Any type of settlement has not been achievable between the two sides. So a lengthy court battle will likely ensue. 

However, commission chairman Aaron Bell is ready for it. Bell represents the south end of Amelia Island where the project would be built.  

“I do understand the concern of folks who live here,” Bell said prior to a long line of public comments. Bell said he “cannot and will not support the settlement.” 

Bell continued, saying he liked the option “where the county tells Riverstone to pound sand – and see you in court.” 

Hundreds of people packed the commission chambers and filled the hallway outside in united opposition to the project. Hundreds more reportedly emailed and called commissioners prior to the meeting this week. 

There’s little support or explanation for the two commissioners who voted in favor of the developer. And essentially voting against the people. Commissioners Tom Ford and Jeff Gray will have a lot of explaining to do, especially Ford who is up for reelection this fall. 

They mounted the tired defense about the county potentially losing an expensive lawsuit, and indebting county taxpayers. But isn’t that why the county has attorneys on its staff, to advise commissioners of the consequences of their actions? And county officials can’t run from every threatened lawsuit. 

If the case goes to court, the county may or may not prevail. But what the three commissioners did – in taking a stand – was the best path. They (Bell, Klynt Farmer and John Martin) should be applauded. 

Nassau County is under assault from developers right now. It’s a prime area in Northeast Florida, with plenty of available land. Development is coming, but controlling it is preferred over sitting idly by and caving to demands – or else developers will sue.  

The county approved the 45-foot height limit to protect and preserve our small-town feel, and to control the density here. You have to believe a vast majority of the residents support this. After all, the commissioners are elected to represent the people, and act on their behalf. 

The founder of the Amelia Tree Conservancy, Lyn Pannone, had a chance to speak out. Many trees would be removed under the proposed plans for the oceanfront high-rise towers, in contrast to a more environmentally friendly approach of building individual homes.  

“We understand that you are nervous about a potential lawsuit,” Pannone said to commissioners. “But we also understand that your constituents, the same people who voted for you, are dead set against this settlement as proposed.” 

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Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in several weekly newspapers in North Florida, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]