Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
At its second regular June meeting last night, June 19, 2012, the Fernandina Beach City Commission moved quickly and harmoniously through their agenda and reports. They received a status report on the state’s plans to restore the Egan’s Creek Greenway at the beginning of the 90-minute meeting. They devoted most of their discussion to considering the future of the riverfront community redevelopment area (CRA).
Mr. Jason Cornell, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) informed the FBCC that work is proceeding to implement Aesthetic Planting Alternative 2 to restore the Egans Creek Greenway, as reported earlier this year. Permitting with the St. Johns Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers is imminent, meaning that this fall work will begin to remove the dead trees and control the invasive exotic plants. Replanting is scheduled to begin in March 2013. In response to a question from Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch, Cornell said that FDOT will monitor the new plantings on a quarterly basis to make sure that they will grow in that environment. If targeted replacement species do not grow, they will be replaced with new varieties. Also, a certain degree of morbidity is expected with new plantings. Those will also be replaced.
Mr. Cornell advised the FBCC that a special website has been set up for this project. All plans and documents are available for public viewing on that site. Additionally, concerned citizens who wish to be added to an email notification list, may contact Cornell at Jason.Cornell@dot.state.fl.us
City Planner Kelly Gibson asked direction from the FBCC during a discussion on the future of the CRA, covering key questions identified by the FBCC in its first meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency earlier this year. Four specific questions were addressed:
1. Should the city reset the CRA’s base year?
2. Should the CRA boundaries be expanded?
3. Who should be the CRA Agency?
4. How often should the CRA Agency meet?
The complete position paper on this topic is available on the city’s website under the agenda item for discussion for this meeting.
Ms. Gibson explained that resetting the base year would involve getting buy-in from the Nassau County Commission. Commissioner Corbett asked what would happen if the county said no. Ms. Gibson replied that in that case the baseline for the county’s appraisal would remain 2005, while the city’s would change to the reset year. Staff recommended that this issue be tabled until there can be some degree of certainty in Nassau County’s position.
In discussing expanding the CRA boundaries, the commissioners expressed skepticism regarding the value of the CRA. Commissioner Corbett asked, “Why would anyone want to join the CRA? It doesn’t have a good track record.” Vice Mayor Bunch went so far as to suggest abolishing the CRA and re-establishing it when times are better. Commissioner Tim Poynter disagreed, stating that we currently have county support for the CRA, but that might not be the case if we decided to start over. Poynter asked if areas of the CRA could be non-contiguous, and City Attorney Bach replied that they could not. She added that the city may have more than one CRA if it chooses, but all area within the CRA must be contiguous.
Ms. Gibson advised caution in expanding boundaries. One of the problems identified by commissioners was that people saw all the CRA money being devoted to waterfront improvements. She said that the city would need to undertake an intensive outreach effort to explain the CRA to property owners targeted for inclusion in the CRA and explain how all the areas, not just the waterfront, would benefit from CRA inclusion. The city must be prepared to invest resources to insure success in this endeavor.
The commission agreed that it should continue to serve as the CRA Agency and re-committed to quarterly meetings. They also agreed with staff recommendation to create a CRA advisory board consisting of individuals who will work with property owners and potential developers to get development started in the CRA.
Mr. Lou Goldman addressed the Commission on his concerns about the CRA. He said that there is a potential to bring in $15M from the CRA. Currently, no one in the city is actively promoting the CRA. He said that it is crucial that some sort of public private partnership be developed and that the city take a proactive approach to seeking out potential developers and find out what they need to get going on projects within the CRA. If the CRA is implemented as it should be, there would be no need to tap into franchise fees for things like the waterfront park. He strongly encouraged the FBCC to make the CRA a priority.
In regular business, the FBCC approved unanimously an amended consent agenda, the award of a bid to expand and renovate the downtown comfort station with work scheduled to be done between Labor Day and New Year’s. They also approved unanimously on first reading an ordinance regarding sick leave sell back for exempt employees and an ordinance to provide an exclusive 6-year franchise to Advanced Disposal Services Stateline, LLC, for household waste removal. They deferred to the next regular meeting appointing members and a commissioner to the city’s Audit Committee, after Commissioner Tim Poynter questioned the feasibility of expanding the committee membership from 5 to 9. Commissioners agreed with Poynter, deciding by consensus to restaff the committee from an applicant pool that consists of 3 current committee members and 4 additional citizens who have expressed interest in serving. The FBCC supported Commissioner Charlie Corbett’s motion to appoint Charles W. Rogers to a vacant alternate position on the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) and reappointed Pat Gass and Wyndham Riotte to new terms on the Board of Adjustment.
Two former city commissioners, Bruce Malcolm and John Crow addressed the commission with respect to the July 4th fireworks. Malcolm informed the FBCC that the Chamber of Commerce has collected all necessary funds and pledges to insure that the fireworks will take place. Crow thanked the commission for supporting the ceremonies for Memorial Day, despite the tropical storm which forced changing venue to the Atlantic Avenue Rec Center. He encouraged the commission to keep the importance of veterans and their sacrifices in mind when looking at funding related activities in the coming budget year. Robin Lentz also spoke to this topic, as a Navy wife. She suggested that there are many ways to show support for the troops other than spending $13,200 on Chinese fireworks. She suggested that the same amount of money could be used to send care packages to the troops overseas. She also thanked individual commissioners for their private contributions to the July 4th fireworks and asked Commissioner Poynter how much he had contributed. He replied that he and his wife had contributed $1,000 to this effort. She said that she wanted that on the record, since Poynter had seemed to be the target of so much vitriol after the 3-2 commission vote not to fund the fireworks with public funds.