Downtown Fernandina Beach Density Change…not quite what you think.

I’m going to weigh in on something the City of Fernandina Beach is considering. Opposing points of view seem to be charged, to say the least, but I think I might be able to add perspective. First, as a disclaimer, I work in Downtown Historic Fernandina Beach and own one of the buildings. I’m also the listing agent for two other properties potentially impacted by a change to density.

Before assuming I’m only considering this from an owner’s point of view, I’d like to paint a picture of how one property might look without the change or after an approval. The Boat House, a building directly across from City Hall, is an under-utilized corner property with great potential for redevelopment. If we’re talking about parking requirements and density, as they stand today, the boat house might become a meeting hall, office suites, hotel or a variety of other commercial uses. Why does increased density actually amount to a lesser intensity of use? The majority of interest in purchasing properties or redeveloping sites downtown is in creating livable loft space on second or third floors. Allowing density changes, actually encourages the use of sites for the more desirable and saleable (is that a word), conversion. At $200/foot or more construction cost, the likely configuration is going to be smaller footage, high-end, loft space. Unlike some supporters of increased density, I think the spaces nearer the water, in particular, will follow pricing you see in cities like Portsmouth, NH, Boston or even New York. Prime locations may start as affordable, but our real win is in creating a path for different hours of parking impact and creating variety in the kinds of users you see downtown. We have 24 hours in a day. Consider the times most office or retail locations impact the area and the benefit of creating living space for people also interested in shopping or spending money downtown. As owners or developers naturally seek the greatest benefit, I see this as a potential way to encourage a kind of complimentary diversity.

COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AMENDMENT – DOWNTOWN DENSITY – ORDINANCE 2017-02 AMENDING THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN BY STRIKING POLICY 1.04.05 COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AREA DENSITY BONUS INCENTIVE PROGRAM AND AMENDING POLICY 1.07.09 TO INCREASE THE BASE DENSITY WITHIN THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT; PROVIDING FOR SEVERABILITY; AND PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE. Synopsis: Amends the Comprehensive Plan specific to downtown density.

Source: www.FBFL.us Agenda 4/18/2017 City Commission Meeting Agenda item 9.1.

Some time ago, at first reading, I published an open letter to the Fernandina Beach City Commission. I have the same thoughts today. We face opportunity. As we watch downtown change, this is a rare opportunity to encourage smarter redevelopment and change the kind of diversity we see downtown. If you agree or don’t agree, I’d love to hear comments. As a real estate broker, native, owner and party involved in marketing more than one downtown property with redevelopment potential, I see the potential for shaping a more complimentary future. Diverse uses create greater potential for the area, should extend parking viability for many more years and should create an added vigor to downtown business. As far as I can tell, City of Fernandina Beach planning, Nassau County Economic Development, the Chamber, the Historic Downtown Merchant’s Association and Main Street, all support the change. I urge you to take a second look and understand density isn’t always what it seems. This change, by the way, is only a single added unit per lot. Wording to request a change, when subm
itted, requires a density calculated based on acreage. When lots are often 25’x100′, it sounds dramatic, but the real change is far less. The clear majority of properties could not take advantage of the change, but it will spur smarter development of properties like the Boat House, complimenting the vicinity through diverse redevelopment.

2 comments to Downtown Fernandina Beach Density Change…not quite what you think.

  • Suzanne Cash

    Ed – your perspective and collective insight on DT Fernandina’s potential and positive future is a “breath of fresh air.” Looking forward to a continued momentum in preserving DT’s history and a bright future on all levels! Best is yet to come re: retail – residential – commercial +

    • edboner

      The change passed, after a very long discussion. In my opinion, the result will be increased vitality and a better downtown in coming years. Thank you for commenting!

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