By Mike Lednovich
The City Commission was unanimous in protecting parcels at the MLK Rec Center and America’s Youth complex from being considered as sites for affordable housing under a state program that identifies city-owned land for home development.
A third city-owned parcel on Eighth Street may be offered to Habitat for Humanity to be developed for a low-income eligible family after city staff does more work on a possible transfer of ownership.
For the second time in eight days, representatives of Fernandina Beach’s black community appeared before a city board to voice opposition to proposed city plans that would be detrimental to the character and culture of their historic neighborhood.
“We worked at the mills and we shrimped and we pulp wooded and now the descendants of those who did that can’t afford to live here,” said Bernard Thompson. “That’s very sad and there’s something very wrong with that. The genie is out of the bottle now and something has to be done.”
Thompson said under the state definition of affordable housing, the income level to qualify would be in the range of $80,000 yearly earnings and that only 40% of the units would be restricted as affordable housing. Such a plan would drive up housing costs and further reduce the black population on the island, he said.
Under state law, the city is required to identify city-owned land that would qualify as sites for affordable housing. City Planning and Conservation Director Kelly Gibson put forward three parcels for consideration. One was located at the east end of sports fields at the MLK Recreation Center on Elm Street and another was at Indigo and 10th Street at the America’s Youth complex. Both parcels are zoned residential. The third property is on Eighth Street near a service station and is also zoned for residential use.
Retta Angus told commissioners about the importance of the work of America’s Youth and how taking away land would hurt the charity. “I would ask that the land adjacent to America’s Youth be rezoned to recreational so this doesn’t come up in the future,” she said. “This property is used every day by the children of America’s Youth. It provides after-school and summer care. Right now there are 40 to 45 children served every day. Meals and snacks are provided. There is no paid staff and they are all volunteers. All of the services are through donations and families don’t pay any fees to attend. This should be removed from the public land inventory.”
City Commissioners agreed that the two park parcels needed to be removed and rezoned as recreational property.
“I don’t think anybody on this commission intended to do anything with these lands,” said Vice Mayor David Sturges. “We need to take these lands and give them for what they are, recreation. The one on Eighth Street is different, that’s a high-traffic area.”
Carol Bolton, the executive director of Nassau County Habitat for Humanity, reminded the commission that “We do affordable housing.” She urged the commission to donate or partner with Habitat for Humanity for city property where affordable housing could be constructed. “Everybody talks about affordable housing, but we do it and we’ve been doing it since 1993,” she said.
Commissioners voted to remove the MLK and America’s Youth properties from the list and to begin the process of rezoning the parcels as recreation. They also voted to begin the process of exploring donating the Eighth Street property to Habitat for Humanity.