Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
December 9, 2021

Area of Waterfront Park Plan

The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at its December 7, 2021 Regular Meeting voted down the latest conceptual plan for a waterfront park, known as Concept E.  This plan, prepared by Marquis Latimer + Halbeck, is the sixth plan in recent memory to have been initially approved by the FBCC and then jettisoned.  The plan had been approved by the FBCC at two earlier meetings.  Only Commissioner Bradley Bean voted continuing support for the twice approved plan. 

The FBCC agreed to hold further discussions on plan elements at their day long January Visioning Meeting, which will be held at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course Club House on January 26, 2022.  The meeting will cover other topics as well and is open to the public.

The sticking points

Commissioners heard objections to the Concept E plan from five members of the public, two of whom said that there were too many “moving parts” to the plan to warrant approval at this time.  Two speakers expressed opposition to locating petanque courts and an amphitheater on the waterfront, claiming that taxpayers would be required to support these additions.  One citizen called for the return of shrimp boats; another chided the FBCC for making bad business decisions that would add to the tax burden as opposed to bringing in revenue to support the City.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger

As commissioners discussed Concept E prior to voting, Vice Mayor Len Kreger noted that fifteen percent of the area was no longer available to the city, since efforts to obtain a key piece of privately owned property that would have connected two city owned properties were unsuccessful.  He also raised the current uncertainty over the future of the property that contains Brett’s Waterway Cafe, suggesting that at the end of the lease period (2025) the structure will probably be demolished.

Commissioner David Sturges

Commissioner David Sturges agreed with Kreger,  He said that his primary concern at this time is completing the seawall in order to alleviate downtown flooding during storms and high tides.  “The reason I can’t agree with [Concept E Plan] is that the parts are still moving,” he said. “Parking remains an issue, especially boat trailer parking.”  He also indicated a desire to hear from a greater number of citizens as to what the people want on the waterfront.

 

Commissioner Bradley Bean

Commissioner Bradley Bean reminded Commissioners that this is the sixth plan that has been developed and paid for by the City for the waterfront — just within his lifetime.  He said, “[Concept E] is a great plan.”  He took issue with complaints about parking spaces, pointing to parking spaces shown on the plan and stating that the same number of boat trailer parking spaces currently available remain in the plan.  “What people want is a place where we can come together to watch the sunsets.” he said.  “This is the working waterfront plan — a plan that keeps our businesses there.  We are letting our businesses down by not  having a great place for our residents and visitors to come.”

“What I want to ask my fellow commissioners is this:  if not now, when?  We’ve just added a 6th plan to the pile of plans we’ve paid for and done nothing with.  This plan has a lot of positive aspects, and I would like to see it move forward,” Bean said.

Commissioner Chip Ross

Commissioner Chip Ross first addressed concerns raised by the public speakers.  He said that local government’s creating the park is not comparable to private sector businesses where return on investment can be calculated.  He noted that the proposed petanque courts consist of railroad ties and gravel, allowing that space to be easily repurposed.  He also reminded people that the park would be paid for with Parks and Recreation impact fees, not ad valorem taxes.

Ross went on to say that City staff needs guidance from the FBCC before moving forward with design elements, bidding projects, etc.  He proposed a  new approach which would allow the City to move forward incrementally according to a set of agreed upon principles in lieu of an overall plan.  He presented seven principles:

  1. Flood protection for the downtown
  2. Riverwalk connecting City-owned properties
  3. Walkable, pedestrian-centric Front Street
  4. Minimize net loss of current parking west of the railroad tracks
  5. Open the Alachua Street rail crossing
  6. No residential development west of the railroad tracks
  7. Any building on the waterfront should minimally obstruct views and boost activity in the surrounding public spaces.
Mayor Mike Lednovich

Mayor Mike Lednovich said he believed that six plans have been rejected because the sentiment of the public is “Leave it alone.”  People are opposed to commercial development of the area and would limit “development” to landscaping.  “The river is the attraction,” Lednovich said.  “It’s the river.”

Lednovich expressed interest in the idea surfaced by Ross to concentrate on developing a set of principles by consensus in lieu of a formal plan.  Commissioners were asked to submit their suggestions to the City Manager.  The topic and proposed principles will be discussed during the January Visioning Workshop.

The vote on approving the Concept E plan was 4-1 in opposition with only Commissioner Bean in support.

Following the vote, Lednovich directed Commissioners to address the principles suggested by Commissioner Chip Ross.  While there seemed to be consensus on the first principle — Flood protection for the downtown — Commissioner Bean suggested that a discussion of principles seemed more appropriate for the January Visioning Meeting.  Other Commissioners agreed.

Lednovich said that this topic will be the first item on the Visioning Meeting agenda.  City Manager Dale Martin said that he would provide Commissioners with a list of topics/projects for which staff needs guidance.  The FBCC will be asked to prioritize these items for discussion at the Visioning Meeting.

Other waterfront matters

While not discussed during the meeting, much work is underway currently or in the near future to improve the waterfront:

  • The seawall and waterfront walk way are under construction.
  • Stormwater mitigation.
  • Improvements to rail crossings at Ash and Centre have been approved by all parties.  Work is anticipated to begin in early 2022.  
  • Approval has been obtained to underground utility lines along North Front Street.

Unresolved issues that could impact waterfront design:

  • New location for Atlantic Seafood
  • Future of Brett’s Waterway Cafe  

The January FBCC Visioning Meeting will mark at least the 5th consecutive year where the waterfront has been discussed and debated.  

Readers are reminded that following the 2022 City Commission elections, where two seats will be contested, the players — and the plans — could once again be subject to change.

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carollee0123hotmail.com
carollee0123hotmail.com(@carollee0123hotmail-com)
9 months ago

I am Grateful that concept did Not pass!!

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_63331)
9 months ago

Blah blah blah all talk & no action……6 plans already!!

chuck hall
chuck hall (@guest_63333)
9 months ago

OK…. this part I simply do not understand.

A sea wall is proposed to keep the water from flooding downtown? IS that the idea for this?

How will a limited-length wall stop the rising water from going around the ends of the wall, or coming from the creeks?

As I recall from hydraulics lessons, water will always seek to enter what is not blocked. Will this wall extend all the way around the lowlands along the south and north of downtown?

I simply must assume that I am not the only one asking this question.

Jeff Ford
Jeff Ford(@jeff-ford)
9 months ago

People have been born, raised, educated, raised families and die, all while the waterfront is discussed by the FBCC

GERALD DECKER
GERALD DECKER (@guest_63335)
9 months ago

Mr. Hall is correct—a seawall will not stop flooding.

The idea needs to follow the latest park concept into the dust bin of history.

Please let the Commissioners know you agree.

Perry Anthony
Perry Anthony (@guest_63336)
9 months ago

This has been going on for over 5 years, as it’s the blind, leading the blind!!!

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_63337)
9 months ago

The seawall is an interesting structure that “protects” nothing more than the Front Street roadway. Most of the other property west of Front Street is built on pilings out in the river.

If the intention is to protect downtown streets, then I suggest that the City partner with the railroad to raise the elevation of the tracks which already provide basic flood protection to properties east of Front Street.

As for the park, grading the land and covering it with grass and a few benches is all that most people seem to want.

F. Hunter
F. Hunter (@guest_63339)
9 months ago
Reply to  John Goshco

Yes, rather than filling every square foot of the waterfront park with entertainment/amusement destinations, make it a place of natural beauty like it probably once was. Even grass is too high maintenance [requiring irrigation and constant attention]. Benches and nature sound like the perfect combination.

kathleen ponder
kathleen ponder (@guest_63342)
9 months ago
Reply to  John Goshco

And instead of grass which requires costly maintenance, why not benches and walking trails thru mini pollinator gardens/native plantings with some educational signage? There could be once a year native plant sales along with shrimp for sale from the boats. There are enough places to go that look like Disney or Charleston.

a question: is there any way to block the view of the paper mills? They’re ugly. Sprucing it up with trees, etc. Would go a long way to making our downtown more beautiful.

Jan Nabors
Jan Nabors (@guest_63351)
9 months ago

If you don’t like the mills leave. They are part of our town! They are what helped make FERNANDINA

Good! What a waste of waterfront property!! Those courts ( name I can’t pronounce, I’m a native) would BE HORRIBLE! for what? On the river? PLEASE!!! FOR Who? A frew friends of a Commissioner? Stop trying to change FB into wherever you came from!

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
9 months ago

Two things. One, “yawn”. Two, yes water finds it’s available lowest level and will outsmart the sea wall. And it’s path is N and S where there are active paper mills. Hope the FBCC has worked out a plan with Westrock and Rayonier. Reminds me of a ‘60’s hit single “Love that dirty water” by the Standells. But seriously, most coastal communities (think Charleston) are working to raise downtown structures, as well as developing a floodwater management plan for when the inevitable flooding occurs.

Arthur Chan
Arthur Chan (@guest_63341)
9 months ago

First priority is the seawall to protect historic downtown. The water is only going to get higher. The Petanque courts could have a permanent home at the athletic field which have restrooms and plenty of parking. As for the amphitheatre too costly to be used part time. We do quite well using the parking lot like the shrimp drop. Just need a better stage. Parking as a high priority for any tourist town.

Jeff Ford
Jeff Ford(@jeff-ford)
9 months ago

Many of these responses representative of the problem. Everyone has their own idea of what they would like to see and in in effort to let everyones voice be heard, yet another round of public expression will happen and another expensive plan will be developed. And then new commissioners will be elected……

Dog chasing its tail.

Leadership needs to come up with the best consensus and plan it can at the time and build something. Public spaces can and are modified all the time as the needs and wants of the public evolve.

Jeff Ford
Jeff Ford(@jeff-ford)
9 months ago

Perry, it’s more than 5 years, more like 40.

Brenda Owens
Brenda Owens(@brenda-owens)
9 months ago

Thank you for this clear & informative reporting. That is what people want & is sorely missing in todays journalism, even in local reporting, with so many “news” outlets participating in the culture wars, peddling the propaganda or spinning our reality to benefit the publication/network/channel owners political & financial agenda. Thanks Suanne, for sharing the straight info in this important matter. Thanks Observer for publishing her reporting on issues that are important to the community. We need clean, unspun facts to make intelligent decisions. It’s appreciated. I moved away, to Atlanta, a couple of years ago, but left a sizeable chunk of my heart in Fernandina, so I try to keep up & keep in touch with the many good people I befriended there. I simply could not afford to live there on the money I could earn in that local economy, without roommates, who would tend to crash & burn me as their income dropped horrifically at the end of tourist season, leaving me on the hook for double overhead. Sad that it’s become even more expensive now, pushing out the working families who are not wealthy. I love to come back often as possible & see my friends who want to preserve Amelia Island as a laid back place with great respect for Nature, to be enjoyed by residents & locals as well as the visitors that sustain the local economy. Give that woman a raise! Sounds like the FBCC are heading in the right direction…and should sort out the contractual agreements for the current & future tenants on city waterfront property before making any concrete decisions. Definitely NO to any buildings that obstruct the public access, views & wallets.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_63352)
9 months ago

Even if the commissioners envision a “grand plan”, that doesn’t mean that it needs to be committed to, implemented or financed all at once. Baby steps are better than no steps.

Build the seawall and a boardwalk. Then let the people decide what additional amenities they want and are willing to pay for.

A private company wouldn’t build a bandstand unless they could charge the performers a “venue fee” sufficient to pay off the capital and maintenance costs in a reasonable period of time. The City builds a facility with taxpayer money (like TopTracer) and hopes the facility will break even some day.

This isn’t a federal project where Other People’s Money is given to anyone who fills out a grant application. If the commissioners approve it, the Fernandina taxpayers will pay for most of it.

Lawrence Piper
Lawrence Piper (@guest_63353)
9 months ago

Hooray this plan is dead(for the time being). Why? Because it was a bad plan. Plain and simple. Pentanque courts at the waterfront? Who’s idiotic idea was that? An amptheater at the marina? Put it all at central park.

GERALD DECKER
GERALD DECKER (@guest_63357)
9 months ago

As a former chair of the Marina Advisory Board, I agree the plan was not right for our waterfront. Maintaining the “working waterfront” character of this area is essential, the plan failed to accomplish that key goal.

My sense is that the present layout seems to be working quite well for all constituents-so any changes should improve, not harm the existing situation.

The real pressing issue is the fate of Brett’s and Atlantic Seafood, two important and iconic features, which draw visitors and locals alike. Our Commissioners need to focus on resolving these situations before embarking on another plan.

Since things are working now, perhaps their focus should turn to other important matters-the golf course situation, repair of the beach walkovers, the Atlantic Rec Center, Peck Center, the ballfields at Center Park–and others.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_63360)
9 months ago

Well Concept ‘F’ has a nice ring to it. We have a Gem in the Amelia River and it’s been underutilized by this Community as an attraction. Plant Grass, a few trees, the people will utilize the River Bank for Picnics, Music events, or Just Hang Out. Forget about a Break Wall at the river bank. Work with the Railroad to raise the Tracks as a (Break Wall) from the Bridge to Rock Ten to protect most of the City from flooding. Stop Wasting Money on ‘Studies, and Designs’ We’ve spent more money on studies, than a wonderful River Park would cost.

Robert Sherretta
Robert Sherretta (@guest_63363)
9 months ago

First, I agree with Jeff Ford and others who propose “getting something going” so that the community can begin to enjoy the waterway in a more civilized fashion – this is a completely wasted resource right now, and its a shame that the City leaders can’t begin to move ahead on some plan – then modify it as necessary in the years ahead.

I also concur with Brenda Owens: Thank you for this clear & informative reporting. That is what people want & is sorely missing in todays journalism, even in local reporting, with so many “news” outlets participating in the culture wars, peddling the propaganda or spinning our reality to benefit the publication/network/channel owners political & financial agenda. Thanks Suanne, for sharing the straight info in this important matter. Thanks Observer for publishing her reporting on issues that are important to the community. We need clean, unspun facts to make intelligent decisions. It’s appreciated. 

GERALD DECKER
GERALD DECKER (@guest_63367)
9 months ago

Mr. Crounse is on the right track–do a little landscaping south of the boat ramp, making that area a little more attractive, and abandon the over-costly seawall idea in favor of working with CSX to mitigate flooding from tidal surges.

Creating a more parklike environment on the south end of the riverfront would be welcomed by all….a good next step to “get something going”.

William Pfingsten
William Pfingsten (@guest_63415)
9 months ago

A good old fashion boardwalk would be nice.

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