By Mike Lednovich
The chairman of the Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board (CRAAB) wants the group to find solutions for downtown Fernandina Beach’s shortage of parking spaces. CRAAB will begin addressing the issue at its June meeting.
“There’s going to be development on all the private properties (in the CRA), we know that. With that, you’ll have additional people coming in bringing their cars who are going to need parking. At some point, you run out of the ability to accommodate all those cars and let’s face it a lot of people come here and don’t have the capacity to walk a mile, half-mile to get to where they want to be,” CRAAB Chairman Alan Hopkins told committee members. “When you have scarcity it’s the costs. Who is paying for it? Right now it’s the citizens of Fernandina Beach. This problem will not go away if we just ignore it. We’ll have to find a solution to it at some point.”
Hopkins said he wanted committee members to think about ideas and solutions for the June meeting.
“This is not just a CRA problem. It’s everything downtown,” Hopkins said. “There’s 25,000 homes being built in Wildlight. They’re coming to Fernandina Beach and they’re not walking.”
Committee member Eric Bartelt asked if the goal of paid parking was to reduce the influx of downtown visitors or to raise revenue for the city.
“If you price it a certain way you will eliminate people from coming down here. That’s not my objective,” Hopkins said. “But it is my objective for the people who benefit from the use of something public to pay for it.”
Hopkins advocates a paid visitor parking program because Fernandina Beach residents “are already paying for it.”
Member Lisa Finkelstein, who heads the Fernandina Main Street program, said she has seen other Main Street communities effectively solve their downtown parking issues.
“From parking studies and parking plans implemented from other Main Street communities, there are ways to go about it that are not a burden to the residents. That incentivizes the employees and the businesses to encourage their employees to park elsewhere. Believe me, we’ve asked (employees and business owners) to park elsewhere. There are ways to implement a parking plan that would help to alleviate some of the congestion in the prime parking spots. So we may have to look at a parking plan that may or may not incorporate paid parking, but is most likely because we’ve got to have either a carrot or a stick. You’ve got to have something that incentivizes or punishes them so you can control the spots that you have.”
But one member, Frank Santry, said he believes the parking issue is a daunting challenge.
“I have a deep-seated suspicion that this is an unsolvable problem,” Santry said. “There are problems that are best left to human nature and this is one of them.”
Santry cautioned that past paid parking programs designed to raise revenues for cities frequently fail because of the costs incurred in running the programs.
Hopkins said he would share his plan at the June meeting.
“The solution I will present will in no way cost the city money,” Hopkins said. “The goal is to make sure we have the sufficient ability for people to enjoy downtown and enhance the business district not only for the people who come here but for ourselves.”
Member Frank Demato asked if parking outside of the CRA was a topic that CRAAB should be addressing.
“If we don’t do it, who is going to do it?” Hopkins said.