By Benjamin Morrison
8 Flags Playscapes
September 3, 2020
As many of you have noticed or heard, development activities have commenced at the new Simmons Road Park site. Those in the community who have followed this project from the early stages know all too well that local environmental advocates have been very concerned about what impact this park will have on this previously undeveloped property. And understandably so.
Conservation and environmental stewardship run deep through our community here in Fernandina Beach. Years of increasing development have created a deep mistrust between many of our neighbors and both the developers of property as well as the City itself which is responsible for approving and monitoring what is built. It seems that you are either on the side of the developers or you are on the side of the conservationists, and there is very little middle ground. There is certainly no cooperation between environmental advocates and those proposing development.
One of the reasons that the City first approached my organization, 8 Flags Playscapes, and asked us if we would be willing to partner on this new park project is that we have a proven history of excelling at bringing people from all ends of the spectrum together to achieve a common goal. We did this first at Pirate Playground, and then again several years later at Egans Creek Park. As the discourse between our friends and neighbors that were “for” this park and those that were “against it” grew increasingly negative, we as an organization realized that we needed to make a change if we were to find common ground to help bring the community back together.
A conversation several months ago with current candidate for City Commission Alexandra Lajoux inspired both of us to see what would happen if we tried to bring some of the passionate environmental advocates in our community to the table and asked “where is there room for improvement in the current design.” This might seem like an obvious scenario to some of you, but trust me, this is something that is unprecedented and quite frankly never happens in the development of properties here in Fernandina Beach. The interesting thing is that in coming up with creative ideas together, neither party had to “give up” anything. The project only got better. What an amazing thing.
Here are just a few changes that have been made to the design of the park since we sought input from our friends in the environmental realm:
1) We are currently in the process of re-engineering the drainage on the site to eliminate the need for retention ponds. This will result in approximately 5,000 square feet of area that was going to be cleared and impacted that will now be left untouched and completely in its natural state.
2) After further consideration based on feedback and concerns from those in the environmental community, we are currently designing the playground component and restricting ourselves to a much smaller footprint/impact than was originally approved and permitted. I anticipate this scaling-back to yield approximately 3,000 square feet of area that was going to be cleared and impacted that will now be left untouched and completely in its natural state.
3) Members of the Amelia Tree Conservancy are acting in an advisory and consulting role during the critical clearing stages of the project. Arthur Herman is being very generous with his time, and is working with the rest of the construction team in helping us make sure nothing is impacted unnecessarily. Not a single tree is being taken out at the park without myself, Dave Holley (City Arborist), and Arthur Herman physically reviewing it and determining that there is no alternative to it being removed. Only then, with all of our consent, are trees to be removed. The Tree Conservancy is also assisting us in procedures for the protection of the trees that are adjacent to the development areas.
4) With the blessing of Nan Voit (Parks Director), the main ¼ mile trail will now be constructed using ADA compliant decomposed granite rather than the concrete that was originally permitted. This will result in the elimination of over 8,000 square feet of impervious area to the site.
5) As of now at least 25 Oak trees that were previously approved to be removed will now be able to remain undisturbed. That accounts for a 35% reduction. And we continue to work every day to increase this percentage and save even more trees wherever possible.
6) We are working with local biologist Pat Foster-Turley to provide environmental features to sustain local wildlife on the property, and even attract new wildlife to the area.
8 Flags Playscapes is committed to providing complete transparency to our friends and neighbors as this project continues with development. If anyone in the community has questions, concerns, or even ideas of how we can make this project even better please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time. My email is [email protected].