Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 22, 2018 7:57 p.m.
There are about 12 parks on the north side of the city of Fernandina Beach and only one on the south side. And currently the southern-most playground is located at the Martin Luther King Center, which is located in the north area of the city.
Because city residents place a high value on parks and recreation opportunities, as evidenced by responses to the recent Fernandina Beach National Citizen Survey, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted unanimously at their March 20, 2018 Regular Meeting to support a city grant request in the amount of $200,000 to the Florida Department of Environmental Project, Land and Water Conservation Fund to create a low-impact public park on city-owned property off Simmons Road.
The proposed park is in an approximately 6 and 1⁄2 acre parcel located within thirty acres of City property through which future nature and bicycle trails are being considered by the Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.
The City of Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Master Plan documents that, “the southern portions of the City are where annexations and new subdivision growth is occurring…the central and southern areas (of the City) also have limited access to recreation facilities; specifically playgrounds, multi-purpose open spaces; and sports courts.
Should the grant be awarded, the FBCC has also authorized the use of City Parks and Recreation Impact Fees for the required matching funds.
The city invited the public to a community meeting on the afternoon of March 22 to provide input and ask questions about the proposed park. Three city commissioners—Phil Chapman, Len Kreger and Chip Ross—also attended.
Parks and Recreation Director Nan Voit, Grants Administrator Lorelei Jacobs and Planning Manager Kelly Gibson took turns explaining various aspects of the park and responding to questions. Jacobs invited attendees to provide her with contact information to be informed of future grants in the area of conservation and parks. She may be contacted by email [email protected] to be added to her distribution list.
Roughly two dozen people attended the meeting. Comments ranged across a variety of topics, with many people expressing concerns over disappearing habitats for birds and other wildlife, loss of trees, and lack of involvement of neighbors in the planning process. Other people expressed strong support for a low-impact park that would provide handicapped access to nature walks. Others appeared to breathe a sigh of relief that the creation of a park in this area would forestall other forms of development that would have even more impact on neighbors and the environment.
Trudie Richards, a member of the city Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC), which had endorsed this park, invited attendees to PRAC meetings to gain a better understanding of city planning and priorities in siting parks. She reminded the audience that PRAC members look out for the entire city, not just their own neighborhoods. She suggested that the public should remember the value of compromise. “Sometimes we need to be realistic,”she said. “Sometimes we need to be willing to bend.”
City representatives stressed that the diagrams presented were schematic only and required for the grant application. Parking surfaces for 8 cars and one handicapped vehicle would be pervious. Other features of the park would include a playground, restrooms and trails that could be navigated by handicapped individuals. These features would be located in the center of the property to provide the least impact on neighboring property owners.
Jacobs commended the FBCC for their strong support of conservation measures, adding that at one time she had chained herself to a tree. She said that her preferred goal would be not to cut down a single tree.
The city commissioners in attendance were invited to make remarks. Kreger viewed the grant as a good opportunity to move forward with implementing the Parks Master Plan. He supported the low-impact scheme for the park. He agreed with those who said that maintenance would be an ongoing responsibility for the city. Kreger also allowed that the city would be working aggressively with citizens and private landowners to put more land into conservation. But he reminded the audience that it was not that long ago that consideration was being given to building a luxury RV resort on the same land, which would have had a much greater impact on the environment.
Commissioner Phil Chapman told the audience that while he understood comments that many felt the city had not done enough to notify them of changes affecting their neighborhoods, he reminded them respectfully that people need to put in effort to keep themselves informed.
Commissioner Chip Ross invited people to email him if they can think of a better way to keep people informed of projects happening or planned for their neighborhoods.
Some speakers raised concerns about too many parks coming to their neighborhood when factoring in the bike trail system that the county will soon put out for bid.
But David Olson, who also spoke in support of the park at the FBCC meeting, strongly supported the idea. He explained that it would be a short walk for neighbors to take children or grandchildren to a playground. He said, “The children are as important as trees, even more so.”
Jacobs apologized to audience members for the short notice period, but said that the city had only just become aware of the grant, which has a March 26 deadline. She also credited city PIO Mary Hamburg for her efforts to promote the meeting via social media and her local media contacts.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.