By Cindy Jackson
June 9, 2020
The June 8, 2020 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners contained a few developments on some recently discussed topics – one of which concerned the potential purchase of land to create an additional boat ramp at King’s Ferry.
By way of background, and as indicated on the County website, earlier this year, the Commissioners approved a “Purchase and Sales Agreement” with Allison Properties, Inc. That agreement gave the County 120 days to conduct its “due diligence” as part of its consideration to acquire some 35 acres of property along the St. Mary’s River at Kings Ferry in Hilliard.
The one and only existing Kings Ferry boat ramp has long been described as being over-crowded. To that end, and as part of a Vision Plan for Nassau County, increasing parks and recreation opportunities for Nassau County residents has been a part of a every long term plan for the community.
As revealed during a workshop earlier that day, the vision plan for Nassau County sees a future goal of the person-to-park ratio as being 14 acres per every 1,000 residents. Today, that ratio is just two acres per 1,000.
The asking price for the Kings Ferry parcel is in the $900,000 range.
At the June 8 meeting, County Manager/County Attorney Mike Mullin explained that like any home purchase due diligence is required. Yet before any due diligence is initiated, there must be a contract. He went on to explain that while the County had entered into a contract, “No money exchanged hands”, emphasized Mullin.
According to public records, the property under discussion is owned by Allison Lands, Inc. A search via Bizapedia shows the Registered Agent of Allison Lands as being Robert S. Allison.
Many will recognize that name as the individual who wanted to create a high-end RV park on Amelia Island and years before, proposed a strategy to improve the City Marina.
All of that being said, Dr. David Barth, of Barth and Associates, whose firm was hired to evaluate the state of parks and recreation in Nassau County, noted that while in town working on his report, he had been asked to visit the property under consideration the property on River Bluff Drive in Hilliard. (Barth Associates was founded to help communities “harness the power” of their parks and recreation system to become more resilient and sustainable).
Post visit, said Barth at the BOCC meeting, “I am kind of underwhelmed by the site,” and went on to say “my gut was that it was wet.”
He described how he and his team evaluate properties. For parcels like the one at Kings Ferry, he always asks questions like:
Could it create an attractive waterfront experience?
Could it create an attractive, well drained, multi-use park/recreational area?
Could a high-quality parking area [for boat trailers] be created?
Turns out, the answers to each of those questions, in his mind, were a resounding no. “There is standing water on the site,” first and foremost, and added “there are a lot of mosquitos out there.”
Barth was forthcoming noting that his bias is for larger multi-use recreational areas and he was not hired to do due diligence.
Mullin took the opportunity to inform Commissioners that during the County’s own preliminary due diligence, issues were uncovered relating to the plat and its boundaries, restrictions on wetlands development and the fact that a change in the use of said parcel would require the approval of 70% of nearby property owners.
Mullin went on to inform Commissioners that a request for a 90-day extension was so that the County might continue with its due diligence was denied. According to Mullin, the seller responded that a 45-day extension might be granted but if and only if, a non-refundable deposit of two and a half percent of the purchase price would be provided.
The end result? The Commissioners voted unanimously (5-0) to abandon discussions with the property owner.