Nassau Sierrans Win Lawsuit to Stop Crane Island Development
A Nassau County Circuit Court judge has agreed with three members of the Nassau Group and ruled that Nassau County
violated the law in approving a planned unit development on environmentally sensitive Crane Island. The three members
of the Nassau Sierra group ExCom had sued the county after the commission voted in 2006 to create a Planned Unit
Development (PUD) on the island, which is designated as conservation in the county’s comprehensive plan.
The history: There were three failed efforts by Crane Island landowners and developers to amend the county’s
comprehensive plan and change the island’s designation to residential between 1995 and 2003. None of the efforts
met the approval of the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA). So then, the Amelia Island Company, one of
Nassau’s largest developers, successfully lobbied the county to use an obscure section of the comprehensive plan to approve
a PUD consisting of 169 houses with a 92-slip marina. The existing conservation designation allows for only one dwelling
every five acres - a maximum of 41 houses on the property, which consists of two-thirds of the island.
Crane Island is a maritime hammock—with a number of large heritage oaks and magnolias—that lies between Amelia
Island and the Intracoastal Waterway. It is directly opposite the Fernandina Beach airport. The northern third of the
island is owned by the Florida Inland Navigation District for a dredging spoil site. The lawsuit, brought by Nassau Sierrans Eric Titcomb, Julie
Ferriera and Robert Weintraub, claimed that the county did not have the authority to amend the comprehensive plan
without getting DCA approval. Judge Brian J. Davis’ December 22 ruling agreed with that position and vacated the
county’s order approving the PUD.
The plaintiffs’ victory is the most recent chapter in a long history of tension over the island. In 1991, when the state
required counties to have comprehensive plans, Nassau County’s fi rst attempt at a plan was rejected because Crane
Island and other environmentally sensitive areas were not protected. In a 1993 negotiated settlement with the DCA,
Nassau was required to establish a “conservation” category in its comp plan that included Crane Island.
When the Amelia Island Co. decided to press for the approval of a PUD, then-county attorney Mike Mullin
met with DCA offi cials to ask if an obscure clause in the county’s comprehensive plan would allow the plan to be
“self-amending.” DCA said it would not, but Mullin issued a contrary legal opinion upon which the commission proceeded.
“The county ... ignored [DCA] and utilized the policy to
approve 169 units on Crane Island without amending the
Future Land Use Map designation for Crane Island,” Davis
wrote in his ruling.
The case, which lasted more than two years, went to trial in October. Plaintiff witnesses included Shaw Stiller, DCA
general counsel, and Mike McDaniel, DCA bureau chief. The plaintiffs’ attorney is Ralf Brooks of Cape Coral, who had also
assisted Nassau Sierra with an earlier Crane Island issue. (from The Pelican, by Robert Weintraub, Nassau County Group)
Victory! Wal-Mart puts Tarpon Springs Supercenter plans “on hold” indefinitely
Though the Big W still smolders, this is an amazing victory for the environment and the wishes of this community. This battle
for the property next to the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs has required the continued
and dogged attention of unbending fi ghters in Tarpon Springs and throughout Pinellas County for over four years.
This fight started in 2004 with strong testimony from the Sierra Club’s Suncoast Group and Friends of the Anclote River at
the planning and zoning board, followed by the marathon all-night hearing at the Tarpon Springs City Commission in January 2005.
Along the way it was aided by many people and several organized groups and a $5,000 contribution from Sierra Club Florida.
Coincidentally, we were involved in a similar battle over in St. Petersburg. That one began and ended in 2005. In that
fight, the Suncoast Group, Association for Community Reform Now (ACORN), the Service Employees International Union
(SEIU), AFL-CIO and the Brighton Bay Homeowners Association successfully and permanently fended off a Wal-Mart
Supercenter on a wetland along Gandy Boulevard. That victory showed us what could be done in Tarpon Springs.
We hope the victory in Tarpon Springs is also permanent. Wal-Mart must go back to square one if they want to revisit this,
and they are facing a political situation that increasingly favors protecting the property. All such battles have low points, and at one
point in Tarpon Springs it seemed that all was lost. Spirits were flagging and money was scarce. Then, a combination of the
Sierra Florida financial help for the ongoing legal effort and the enthusiasm of Suncoast volunteer Chris Hrbovsky turned the tide. With those funds
and his indomitable spirit, Chris personally drove the legal process to keep Wal-Mart at bay. And while he was at it, he
ran for local office. (from The Pelican story by Cathy Harrelson, Sierra Club Suncoast Group)
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