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St. Marys Planning Board engages public on ‘HOA style’ ordinances

The St. Marys Planning Commission held two public hearings for citizens to give their concerns about the newly proposed ordinances that align with the city’s 10-year master plan.

The public meetings were held on May 24th and May 26th (over the Memorial Day weekend).  The city’s building and zoning ordinances have not been updated since 1994.

In November 2017, citizens voiced concerns, and many stated that city ordinances were like Homeowners Association type restrictions on the citizens. At the November meeting, the Commission members, Doug Copper, Arlene Norris, and Nancy Stasinis stated that the ordinances were too restrictive and needed further review.

In March 2018, the City Council, at the recommendation of then City Planning Director, Jeff Adams, requested that ordinances be sent back to the Planning Commission for review and consider aligning the changes to the city’s master plan.  At that time, Adams suggested that the Planning Commission justify their changes with specific design standards.

Since that time, Copper and Stasinis resigned from the Planning Commission and Norris was not reappointed. The new members are expected to move the ordinances forward for a vote by the City Council. Also, Jeff Adams resigned as City Planning Director and has been hired by the City as a consultant on the ordinances until the City Council votes on them. Adams is currently the Planning Director in Bryan County.

The City Council is waiting on the newly revised ordinances after the public comment period. According to Jeff Adams, now a consultant for the city, said at least 20 changes have made to the new ordinances based on public comment. Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mike Rich, ensured the changes aligned to the priorities and goals of the city’s 10-year master plan.

“The Master plan references other studies and plans, such as traffic and demographic studies, over 80 interviews conducted with about 600 people answering a survey about the future planning of St. Marys,” said Rich.

Rich stated that the public comments can still be made until June 8th and a special meeting will be called on June 14th to finalize recommendations for the council which will be to approve, not approve, or table the ordinances.

“Nothing is baked in or preordained,” said Chairman Rich. “We do encourage you to make your thoughts known.”

It is important to note that the City of St. Marys hired a code enforcement officer in April.

Several citizens spoke about the ordinances:

Mark Fautz– resident- Open discussion with Mike Rich and Jeff Adams on the parking of cars and RV Parking–  

Faust asked a question about if car repair places must store the cars behind their business. “Do they know they have to move the cars?”

According to consultant Jeff Adams, any structure that is lawfully existing, if the owner wants to make a change or catastrophic event that requires the building to be rebuilt based on the new code. “The parking would not be an issue.  If [the business] was grandfathered in, then that is a legal use.”

“Will the same use be for RVs and boats?” asked Fautz.

“No, I am not saying that,” said Adams

Fautz challenged the nature of the ordinance as it relates to welcoming retirees who come to the area in their RVs. According to the ordnance, RVs are not allowed to be parked within the city in front of a residence.

“We need to offer that St. Marys is a welcoming city. If we say that you can bring your RV, but you cannot stay in it. You cannot park it when everyone wants to come down to Cumberland Island. If I were an RV person, I would not come back,” explained Fautz.

Fautz then asked if he was allowed to park a boat or an RV in his driveway and Adams stated he could only park one, not both.

Fautz also asked, “If my brother-in-law wants to visit me and park his RV in my driveway for a week, will he get a ticket?”

Adams stated he was only allowed one in his driveway.

“So, then I would be in violation. So, then I would need to tell him to park his RV somewhere else if he wants to stay with me,” said Fautz.

“That’s true,” answered Adams.

Fautz further asked about parking on his own property and how many cars would be allowed in his driveway.

“As I understand this, I can only have two automobiles in my driveway, is that correct?” asked Fautz.

“No, I have not read the limitations on that,” said Adams.

According to Chairman Mike Rich, four cars would be allowed based on the newly proposed ordinances on hard surface parking belonging to the residence.

Valarie Fautz – resident – Asked questions of Chairman Rich.

Valarie Fautz spoke about how the ordinances place a heavy emphasis on a high population in the downtown area…”who on this commission will that profit?”

“We are not going to answer that,” said Chairman Mike Rich.

Debbie Davies – resident – “We need to increase our tax base,” and she believes the new zoning ordinances will increase the diversity in the downtown area.

Roger Lang – resident – Lang sells used appliances on Osborne Street.  “I see no reason why I could not place appliances on the sidewalk.”

Alex Kearns – resident – Explains that the city is still trying to recover from Hurricane Irma and any improvements need to go to stormwater management. Any trees removed will impact the drainage. “We will pay a high price for what we are doing.”

Terry Landreth – Local of Chamber of Commerce member – Explains the development in St. Marys is lacking, and the assets for business development is captured in St. Marys’ mixed-use developments.

“We have had one ribbon cutting on Osborne St. and one in the industrial park. These are high tax dollar use areas. Is it good for those that are looking to move here? Are we eliminating ourselves quickly? We have many vacancies inside the mixed-use areas.”

Kathy Rickenberg – resident

“We are becoming more of a retirement community. We have people who bring their boats and RVs, and if you regulate that, we are going to become another Osprey Cove or a Sugarmill. We moved out of Sugarmill to come downtown to get away from [ restrictions] and now you are trying to push it back on us. We don’t want that. We have so many vacant business buildings. We do not need to build more; we need to use what we have.”

Anne Orr – resident

Orr stated she was concern about the trees and shade being compromised as the new ordinances allow for smaller lot sizes for increased population density. “Are you going to change the nature of St. Marys when you are going to have these smaller lots?”

Terri Stover – Resident and local builder

“Downtown St. Marys has not changed since I was a kid, other than paved roads. The visitors like the uniqueness of downtown. We are starting back building and developing. The people that live downtown and Osprey Cove, Winding River, and Cumberland Harbor. I would say a lot of them eat in downtown, but a lot a people do not support downtown who live in this town. We need more people. We need more people to live here, but more people need to visit.

“A lot of people who want to retire do not want mansions; they want smaller houses. If we can turn a 10,000 square foot lot into a 5,000 square foot lot, the city wins in several ways. We get the taxes on two lots instead of one. We also get sewer water tap fees.   If we do not get more people to visit here, our downtown will never prosper. We are a retirement area.”

Jeff Foster – resident

“Anyone mowing by the marsh is in violation. The marsh front should be regulated by the state, not the City of St. Marys.”

Joseph Lucent – resident and owns multiple businesses in St. Marys

“We do not have a downtown. This is a ghost town. All I see is businesses come and go for 14 years. The downtown is dying. I have invested money here since 2004 and we have got to create a downtown. The only way to get people downtown to adopt some of these ordinances. It is time to progress.”

Carl Lovell – resident

“When the historic district was established, we were told that it was to keep St. Marys like St. Marys is now, we want to be like St. Augustine.  Now, you want to put people on top of one another.  Follow the money. We have had two people come forward and admit that they are going to be big-time winners. If you want to get more business open, you got to get that airport back open. You got to let people have the property for a decent price.”

Mark Fautz  – resident – Another discussion with Chairman Rich and Jeff Adams –

“With the new lot sizes, how much water runoff are we going to get? When a third party impacts an individual’s property rights, it is important to gather evidence. Private property owners need to know that cities often cannot enforce these actions.”

Chairman Mike Rich said, “Zoning has nothing to do with stormwater drainage. It is a function of government, and this is not an issue that is not germane to the zoning code.”

Fautz replied and said “when you are talking about smaller lot sizes and clear-cutting in the ordinances that are proposed; most certainly water runoff should be a zoning issue because that is causing it. That is the point.”

“This ordinance has much more teeth to stop people from destroying wetlands and other things,” said Jeff Adams.

Debbie Jones – local realtor –

“Darien has built those smaller cottages and you all should look there. If you do not make a change, we are going to die on the vine. St. Marys is not development and builder friendly. Developers moan when they have to build something in St. Marys because they know the impact fees are higher. We know if a more difficult sale is if we come to St. Marys as opposed to Kingsland or Brunswick.”

Jay Moreno – resident –

“This densification is not going to work. There is the perception of a civic obligation to do whatever it takes to resuscitate the businesses of downtown St. Marys. The central part of economic activity is near Walmart, like many other small towns in the United States. It just seems to be an obsession to save the businesses that are floundering in downtown. People can get their retail needs met without going downtown. Why are we so obsessed? The only thing that is going to save downtown is if we wake up one morning and there was a bridge running over to Fernandina. Y’all do what you’re going do because we all know you are going to do what you are going to do.”

Consultant Jeff Adams stated that ordinance document can be changed at any time and nothing is set in stone for St. Marys.  “We’ve got to make better use of our land, and that is what this is about.”

Website to make comments and review planning documents:

[Correction – Previously, it was written that Arlene Norris resigned, instead, she was not reappointed to the Commission.  It was also written that Jeff Adams was they Planning Director in Darien. Adams is currently working in Bryan County.]


Related articles –

St. Marys City Official mocks residents over newly proposed ordinances and codes

Video: St. Marys Planning Board votes down ‘HOA style’ ordinances

Petition started to stop St Marys ‘HOA style’ ordinances


Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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