Beachfront homeowners launch Preserve AMI campaign

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The version of this story recently published by another publication omitted the section at the end about the Preserve AMI campaign. That information is contained toward the end of this version of the story, as originally submitted for publication.   

UPDATE: Saturday, July 24:
On Tuesday, July 20 FDEP issued a final order in favor of Fedora Campbell’s ability to develop her vacant beachfront lot at 105 Elm Avenue in Anna Maria. Campbell’s property is located seaward of and in front of the Jordans’ beachfront home at 107 Elm Avenue. FDEP’s final order was issued after this story was written and originally published. A follow-up story about the FDEP final order is being written.

ANNA MARIA – Anna Maria homeowners Wendy and Robert Jordan recently launched the Preserve AMI campaign, in part to protect their mostly unobstructed view of the beach and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Preserve AMI campaign also addresses wider reaching concerns about the potential impacts of a pending Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permitting ruling. The Jordans and some of their supporters fear the anticipated ruling could establish a precedent regarding construction seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL), which in turn could impact beach dune systems, sea turtles and other wildlife.

The Jordans own and operate the North Carolina-based Jordan Lumber & Supply company and several other timber-related businesses. In April, they purchased the beachfront home at 107 Elm Avenue for $4 million through their North Carolina-registered WAJ Rustic Vacations LLC.

According to the city of Anna Maria clerk’s office, the home was previously registered as a vacation rental, but that’s no longer the case since the change in ownership.

Prior to the Jordans’ purchase, some neighboring property owners had already filed a petition for a formal administrative hearing in opposition to a 2020 FDEP permitting decision regarding the vacant lot at 105 Elm Avenue. Owned by Fedora Campbell, that property is one of two undeveloped lots located between the Jordans’ home and the Gulf.

The Jordans also recently purchased from Steven Decker the vacant lot at 103 Elm Avenue which is seaward of both the 105 and 107 Elm Avenue properties. The purchase of the 103 Elm Avenue property resulted in Campbell’s property now being located in between two properties owned by the Jordans.  

On Feb. 13, 2020, an application was submitted to FDEP on Campbell’s behalf seeking to construct a single-family residence on her property. On June 25, 2020, FDEP provided Campbell and her associates with a notice to proceed and a permit for construction or other activities. The FDEP notice stated those whose substantial interests may be affected by the department’s action could petition for a formal administrative hearing.

On Aug. 3, 2020, attorney David Levin filed a petition for formal administrative hearing with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). Levin filed that document on behalf of petitioners David Morris and Ling Liu (owners of 108 Elm Ave), DAR Real Estate Enterprises LLC (owners of 109 Sycamore Ave) and Richard Theidel (owner of 100 Sycamore Avenue).

“On or about June 25, 2020, petitioners became aware that permit number ME-1341 had been issued to a neighbor authorizing the construction of a new single-family residence at 105 Elm Avenue,” according to the petition for hearing document that named Campbell and FDEP as respondents.

“The structure authorized by FDEP’s CCCL (Coastal Construction Control Line) permit will substantially advance seaward the established line of existing construction. By way of example, immediately adjacent and to the east of Campbell’s proposed residential structure is a single-family residential structure at 107 Elm Avenue. Said residence was authorized by FDEP permit number ME-919 to be constructed to the existing line of construction. According to the CCCL plan submitted with Campbell’s application, the residence at 107 Elm Avenue, and hence the established line of existing construction, is 270 feet and 249 feet seaward of the CCCL, north and south respectively. Petitioners specifically allege that as presently designed and authorized by Permit No. ME-1341, Campbell’s proposed structures do not comply with the applicable requirements and are not eligible for a CCCL permit. Petitioners seek a final order revoking Permit No. ME-1341,” according to the petition for hearing.  

Recommended order

In response to the petitioners’ request, administrative law judge Francine Ffolkes presided over a  DOAH hearing that occurred during a six-day period this past February.

According to the DOAH website, Ffolkes was assigned to DOAH’s environmental and specialization districts in 2017. Before that, she served as deputy general counsel in charge of FDEP’s litigation section. 

On June 7, Ffolkes issued her recommended order regarding the FDEP permit issued for 105 Elm Avenue.

“Based on the foregoing findings of fact and conclusions of law, it is hereby recommended that DEP enter a final order granting respondent Campbell’s application for a CCCL permit to construct a single-family residence and associated structures seaward of the CCCL,” Ffolkes stated her written recommended order.

On June 29, Wendy Jordan sent a lengthy email to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy and all five city commissioners in which she stated, “We learned before closing that our property was

involved in litigation between several contiguous waterfront neighbors. We gladly joined the fight. We first offered the lot owner $2 million for her lot. She asked for $2 million and we met to set the closing and then she turned it down.” 

Regarding Ffolkes’ recommended order, Jordan’s email noted petitioners had 15 days to respond to what she referred to as “the unbelievable ruling.”

Jordan’s email also said, “For those who immediately say, ‘You are only worried about your view,’ of course I am worried about my view. We paid for a view and it is in jeopardy of change that will ruin the wildlife.”

When contacted on Thursday, July 15, an assistant in Ffolkes’ office who wished to remain anonymous said FDEP can follow, modify or discard the judge’s recommended order, and she wasn’t aware of a final order being issued.

On Friday, July 16, The Sun received an email response from FDEP Press Secretary Alexandra Kuchta that said, “The department will issue a final order in this case on or before July 22.”    

City permits also needed

If permitted by FDEP, the development of 105 Elm would also require building permits issued by the city of Anna Maria.

On July 6, Anna Maria Building Official Luke Curtis sent an email to Murphy regarding that property.

Curtis’ email referenced a determination of buildable area report for 105 Elm the Environmental, Consulting & Technology (ECT) firm provided the city in February 2018, before the current dispute ensued.

His email noted the ECT report said, “This buildable area determination should only be considered a preliminary determination to ensure consistency with the city’s zoning regulations, but the extent of development on this lot will ultimately be decided by FDEP.”

Curtis’ email noted the ECT report said, “The parcel was previously situated much closer to the Gulf of Mexico relative to its current position. The significant transition in the beach profile is due to beach renourishment projects that were initiated in 2002 in an effort to remediate major erosion along the shoreline. FDEP will need to evaluate whether the lot would be considered primary dunes which are subject to more restrictions.”

Curtis’ email states the buildable area determinations provided by ECT – and a separate report provided by the ECO consulting group in 2017 – both confirm 105 Elm is a buildable lot per city code.

Elm Avenue currently ends near the Jordans’ driveway and does not provide direct access to 105 Elm Ave.

Elm Avenue ends near the Jordans’ driveway and does not currently provide direct access to 105 Elm. Photo: Joe Hendricks

“Prior to any building permit being accepted by the building department, a development permit, along with a site plan – including but not limited to access to the property, sewer, water and electric utilities – will need to be considered and approved by city commission,” Curtis noted in his email.

Preserve AMI campaign

The Preserve AMI campaign is being carried out by Patrick Coyne, a longtime friend of the Jordans. Coyne lives in North Carolina, where he owns and operates Coyne & Co., a firm that offers “innovative brand building” across multiple media platforms. Coyne also serves as the Preserve AMI spokesperson.

To date, the campaign has included the website, full page newspaper ads and an online petition that as of Sunday had been signed by more than 840 people.

The Preserve AMI website contains a video in which land surveyor Jeff Hostetler explains the dispute as it pertains to the coastal construction control line and how the Jordan’s home that was built according to the CCCL line as it existed in 2012.  

One full-page newspaper ad included a headline that referenced Murphy and said, “Tell Mayor Dan to do the right thing.” Another full-page ad included a different headline that said, “Tell our local officials to do the right thing.”

On Wednesday, July 14, The Sun conducted an hour-long phone interview with Coyne, who at the time was on or near Anna Maria Island. Coyne acknowledged that doesn’t live on Anna Maria Island, is not real familiar with the Island and has never met Murphy or attended an Anna Maria City Commission meeting.

When interviewed, Coyne did not yet have a clear understanding as to the distinction between the city of Anna Maria and Anna Maria Island as a whole. Coyne could not clearly articulate whether the print ads that referenced “local officials” pertained to local officials in Anna Maria only, or to local officials in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach as well. Nor was Coyne able to clearly articulate any specific actions the Preserve AMI campaign seeks from Murphy and other local officials regarding the FDEP permitting dispute.

When asked why one full-page newspaper ad addressed “local officials” and the other addressed “Mayor Dan,” Coyne said the differing headlines were part of his campaign strategy.

In reference to interim FDEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton, additional Preserve AMI signs and website materials say, “Tell Florida’s DEP Secretary to do the right thing.” 

The Preserve AMI campaign has included signs placed at and near the Jordans’ beachfront home. A visit to that area on the morning of Thursday, July 15, revealed a Preserve AMI sign placed in the dune on the 103 Elm Avenue property, a similar sign attached to the Jordans’ balcony and another free-standing sign placed on private property at 104 Elm Ave, alongside the beach access path. All three signs carried the “Tell Mayor Dan to do the right thing” message.  

On the morning of Thursday, July 15, this sign was standing in the beach dune area seaward of the Jordans’ home. Photo: Joe Hendricks

When contacted that day, Code Enforcement Manager Debbie Haynes said the signs were legally placed on private property. Haynes noted the Jordans were previously cited and fined $250 for a campaign related sign on their property that exceeded the size allowed by the city’s sign ordinance.

On Friday, July 16, Coyne shared an email that stated Preserve AMI was putting a pause on its print advertising campaign until a private meeting between Murphy and the Jordans could be scheduled. As of Friday, July 23, that in-person meeting had not yet been scheduled because the Jordans were unavailable to meet in person and Murphy declined conducting that meeting remotely via Zoom teleconferencing software.   

When contacted, Murphy has declined commenting publicly about these matters.