Commentary: A Rebuttal of a Rebuttal on Waterfront Plans

By  Bob Allison

I read with interest Commissioner Chip Ross’s rebuttal to my article about waterfront improvements.

He states, “After careful scrutiny, the relocated bulkheads would have required the filling of 3.5 acres of sovereign waters of the state of Florida.”

It appears he is attempting to explain away the city’s paralysis on its waterfront by indicating the tidal lands at the marina are state waters and therefore untouchable.

But what if Mr. Ross is completely wrong about this? What if his “careful scrutiny” never included a five-minute inspection of the surveys at City Hall showing the location at the marina of the submerged land lease from the state of Florida?

A portion of this survey is shown with this article. If Mr. Ross had inspected this survey he might have instantly recognized there is no state lease in effect for the land under the water at the marina and gone on to ask the obvious question: why not?

Survey portion. Notice Brett’s at the bottom and the boat ramp at the top. The state’s submerged lands lease is shown at the location of the breakwater and west, and outside the city’s owned submerged lands under the marina.

There is a simple answer to this question. The state of Florida does not require any lease on submerged lands that are not state-owned. State ownership of the land under the water is what determines “sovereign waters.” The state recognizes the city’s ownership of the lands under the marina.

The city, while perhaps relying on Mr. Ross’s “careful scrutiny,” appears blind to the fact that the city owns the entirety of the lands both above and below the water in Water Lots 26, 27, and 28.

This includes all of the land under the marina from Brett’s restaurant to south of the boat ramp. If you have the opportunity to review the plan I presented to the city in 2017, you will notice this is the primary area proposed for the creation of new land for the public waterfront park that citizens have been clamoring about for decades.

Contrary to the opinion of Mr. Ross, the city is not prohibited from relocating its bulkheads on its own submerged lands to create new land to accomplish this. It does not involve infringing on the “sovereign waters of the State of Florida.”

Commissioner Ross describes the processes of improving the city’s waterfront by moving its bulkheads as requiring “intense permitting” — as if this is something the city and its citizens should be afraid of? I think not. The approval process is something most city citizens can get excited about if it offers the promise for the city’s waterfront to be improved in every respect and to include a genuine waterfront park.

My plan for the city’s waterfront is public and available for anyone interested to see and read.

I appreciate Mr. Ross’s comments on the plan, but they would be infinitely more constructive if he could first get his facts straight.

Ask any city official to share with you the city’s plan for the remainder of the waterfront. Don’t be surprised to hear that the city doesn’t have a plan. If you are a city taxpayer, you don’t want to ask how much of your money City Hall has wasted on incompetent out-of-town consultants to develop such plans.

The citizens of Fernandina Beach are poorly served by elected officials who present their own unsupported personal opinions in the local media as absolute fact. Their failure to do even the smallest amount of research on the critical issues affecting the future of the city’s waterfront is unfortunate.

This may best explain the city’s inability to make any meaningful improvements to its most important public property or to organize any viable plan for its future.

39 Comments
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john Goshco
john Goshco (@guest_66850)
8 months ago

1- I can’t find a link to The Plan.
2- I can’t find “a portion of the survey” (diagram?)

Kathy Blacklock
Editor
Member
Kathy Blacklock(@blacklock)
8 months ago
Reply to  john Goshco

A link to the plan is now included in the body of the article. We’re working on getting the diagram uploaded as well.

john Goshco
john Goshco (@guest_66851)
8 months ago

In general, I agree with Mr. Allison and I’ve stated it previously.
1- Build a bulkhead as far into the river as allowed.
2- Backfill with dirt.
3- Cover with grass..
4- Add a walkway with benches along the river.
It would seem that this is the cheapest solution that, at the same time, would satisfy the desires of the majority of the community.
The performance stage, fountain, playground, and other ticky-tacky features can always be added later, if that’s what the community wants and is willing to pay for.

Robert Reisner
Robert Reisner(@bob-reisner)
8 months ago
Reply to  john Goshco

John, we don’t need a bulkhead with the cost and forever permitting. We simply need to tear out all the existing parking south of Centre and make the space grass. Replace the parking with a parking garage on the city space next to City Hall. Close to waterfront park and also to the downtown area. A dual purpose facility.

I wrote more about this here: https://bobreisner.substack.com/p/a-real-park-on-the-waterfront-in

Bob Tankel
Bob Tankel(@bob-tankel)
8 months ago
Reply to  Robert Reisner

How about moving city hall off of some of the most desirable land to somewhere that needs redevelopment?

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago

John, it looks like the Editor at the Observer made a mistake with this. My Waterfront Plan and the survey of the current State Submerged Lands Lease were both included in my submission. To fully understand the City’s position on this, it is essential to have a quick look at the survey. I’ll try to send it along to you by email.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago

ooops…..John, I can’t find your email address. The best solution here is for you to send an email to the Observer’s editor, Mike Phillips, at [email protected] to let him know you want to see the survey and my Waterfront Report submitted to the city back in 2017. Maybe you know I am responsible for both Brett’s restaurant and Fernandina Harbor Marina back in the 80s. Not one single important improvement to the City’s waterfront has been made since. If Mike will publish the documents mentioned here, I think you will find I know a lot about the waterfront and its potential. Thanks for your interest in this.

Lucy Peistrup
Lucy Peistrup(@lucyp74)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Imagine that!! The ONLY positive investment in the city’s waterfront was done by YOU! Yet the current government wants to make waves at what you are proposing now?!?! As I stated in the previous article, you are a BUSINESSMAN. A very successful one at that. They should sit down, shut up and LISTEN. That stinking airport has been a waste to coddle to the wealthy people who do NOTHING for this community yet they have sunk millions into it. It is incredibly frustrating every year when that overpriced Tonka Toy show comes to town and we have to give up parking at our beach access for “them” to park the ferries for their fancy toys. How about INVEST in something EVERYONE can enjoy?

Bill Fold
Bill Fold(@bill-fold)
8 months ago
Reply to  Lucy Peistrup

Lucy, they don’t care about everyone, They’re only interested in what they can do for themselves.

john Goshco
john Goshco (@guest_66864)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Thanks Bob.
I look forward to seeing the documents when published.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago

John, it looks like it is just you and me in this discussion but this is OK. Mike Phillips, the Observer’s Editor, has sent me an email indicating the survey and Common Sense Plan are now included. If you read the plan keep in mind it was written five years ago. Unfortunately, since it was ignored at City Hall, its most important recommendations regarding the marina repairs and the best design plans were never implemented. Many of the landside recommendations Report remain valid although the financial model requires updating to reflect the changes in market conditions and cost.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

Robert, I appreciate your providing this fascinating link. What may be at play here is the history of the City’s marketable title. I believe a search might reveal the City held marketable title to its Water Lots prior to the creation of the State of Florida in 1845.

Robert S. Warner, Jr.
Robert S. Warner, Jr. (@guest_66885)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Anything “might reveal”. Speculation all the time. Sorry, as a city taxpayer, I think the City of Fernandina Beach reasonably and responsibly knows what it’s about.

Nicholas Velvet
Nicholas Velvet (@guest_66872)
8 months ago

Hummmmm many thanks for the Resurfacing of The Plan. I do love a good read. Funny, Bret’s STILL has not fallen into the River now how many years later and counting? Funny, Beach Walkovers…..what was it 15? still have not fallen into the sand due to “gastrologic failures”. Thank God people stood their ground(s). No teardowns without the replacement in place Folks should be the Taxpayers cry but what do I know? I’ve only walked over one of these beach walkovers for the last 12 plus year once daily, built a few structures in my time, etc.

Sad but when the “We’re Here to Protect you People” say No…..it’s No”. Next up…..a $750,000 study fee to the same engineers to thumbs down The Plan~~~again. And someone commented the other day of protection from The Good Old’e Boy network? I love a good story tale. Stay tunned. The best is yet to come.

Just like $400,000 for the Airport Welcome Center which now is a $4,00,000.00 elephant most taxpayers have not even seen let alone used but hey, it’s good for touris we the Taxpayers are pure fools to allow this to continue.

Dennis Smith
Dennis Smith (@guest_66875)
8 months ago

Visit Beaufort, SC and learn how this coastal town invigorated its’ downtown area by creating a Park-like environment along its’ tidal waterfront. A creative approach to managing the impact of rising and falling tides has resulted in a tourist destination and expanded business opportunities for local citizens.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66879)
8 months ago

An altogether bad idea to increase the already substantial vulnerability of the waterfront. The Saltmarsh temple and an artificial landfill fly in the face of reason–sea level is rising, mother nature will have her way. Build for sustainability.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

If by “bulkhead” the writer means seawall, that should only be accompanied with a large living shoreline, with marsh grass (Spartina), oyster beds, etc., out to the river. Without a living buffer, seawalls create more erosion, are more expensive to maintain, and are not sustainable.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Mark, call it seawall if you wish but the seawall/bulkhead in question is the vertical wall securing the uplands west of Front Street between Centre and Ash Streets. I like your idea of a “a large living shoreline, with marsh grass (spartina), oyster beds, etc. out to the river.” but, in this instance, none of this can be accomplished with a marina in the way.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_66884)
8 months ago

We have a city engineer insisting that Brett’s be condemned, a city manager who has solicited proposals for a replacement without authorization, and a city commission that has cleared the path for a new Saltmarsh water-side venue. Mr. Allison is wrong–there is a plan, we just don’t know what it is. And now an idea to create new land–for what purpose?

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Al MacDougall

Al, for a waterfront park…..to new land to move Front Street west….to allow commercial rentable space to be built on the land currently under Front street…for new city revenues that can be used to reduce the outrageous public debt on the marina.

Robert Reisner
Robert Reisner(@bob-reisner)
8 months ago

Being in Fernandina for over 20 years, it continues to be a disappointment that the marina waterfront is nothing more than paved parking. It’s not a hard problem to fix and yet it never get’s done.

It’s simple to do. First, tear up every parking space below Centre Street along the waterfront. Close the boat ramp, tear down Atlantic Seafood and tear down the boater shower/laundry building. Convert the current boater lounge to a commercial space acting as a coffee shop/ snack bar/ wine bar. Connect the existing waterfront walkways and we are done.

And parking? Simple. Build a three story parking garage on city land just west of city hall. A garage on this space would have more than twice the spaces that would be eliminated in creating the waterfront park.

This is not rocket science. Garages are not complex structures and tearing up existing parking lots is even easier.

I wrote more about this here:
https://bobreisner.substack.com/p/a-real-park-on-the-waterfront-in

Audrey
Audrey(@ahefterhughes)
8 months ago

Thank you for the actual facts on the land owned by the city of Fernandina. As with any organization there needs to be a long term plan, say a 5-10 year plan, and shorter term, annual plans that lead to the common goal. Continuing to spend money on short term ego-trip consulting efforts is wasteful and difficult for me to continuously read about. Politics, I’m afraid, makes short term goals ego-boosting and re-election enticing. Is there a long term plan?

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Audrey

Audrey, the City is without any sort of plan…short term or long term. The plan I presented to the City back in 2017 is not perfect but it can be a small baby step in the right direction. What is most critical is a re-alighnment of the seawalls/bulkheads to create more land to work with. I am proposing new land on the City’s owned Water Lots 26, 27 and 28 extending from Brett’s to south of the boat ramp. This is the ideal location for a true waterfront park. Stroll down to the marina at low tide and you will see this area is now mostly a huge stinking mud bank. If you step out on to the catwalk at the boat ramp you can get a great view of the existing concrete bulkhead which is more than 60 years old and failing. Notice the condition of the steel beams which were installed in the 70’s to keep the bulkhead from tumbling over into the marina.

john Goshco
john Goshco (@guest_66895)
8 months ago

I’ve been reading Mr. Allison’s plan for two days now and, after digesting 30 of 41 pages, I must say that I’m impressed. Very impressed. The plan is comprehensive, very well thought out, easily understood by the average person and yet is presented in sufficient detail such that it must be taken as a serious proposal.

I recommend that anyone who is serious about improving the entire waterfront read this comprehensive proposal before making suggestions for partial improvements.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  john Goshco

John, keep in mind the Report was written and submitted to the City five years ago. Market conditions have changed substantially over the period rendering the financial model in need of updating. Rental rates, as an example, which were projected at $20. per square foot are now averaging $35. per foot and more. Sadly, the repairs to the marina have already been made. If the marina had been designed according to my plan it would have cost about the same but it would now accommodate twice as many boats and been significantly more profitable for the City. Sadly, we are dealing with officials at City Hall who don’t know what they don’t know. The City’s bright future suffers as a result.

DAVE LOTT
DAVE LOTT(@dave-l)
8 months ago

Bob, I have again read your plan in great detail as I did five years ago. As with your luxury RV resort plan, it is great that every community have someone that pushes the envelope of “what could be”. My “objections” to your plan are primarily centered around the 67,500 square feet of commercial development that will be placed in the “park” area. The community has consistently said that it doesn’t want any additional commercial space in the park. This has been shown most recently by the outcry of the City to grant Ms. Coonrod/Mr. Saltmarsh an additional 3,000+ sf with a proposed annual lease rate of $6.50/sq ft. The private financing of this development and the ability of the City to earn $20/sf for a triple new ground lease is quite a stretch. Of course now with the higher interest rate on financing, the cost to the city for the engineering and construction of the seawall to allow the infill has increased substantially. Do you really think the City commissioners have the strength to burden the city taxpayers with a $25 – $30 million bond for a development based on a wish and a prayer.
I think the RV resort idea has a better shot, but keep on keeping on.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  DAVE LOTT

Dave, thanks for reading my Report a second time. I’ll do my best here to address your viewpoints. No, the City or the citizens would not support 67,500 square feet of commercial space in the “park” area. But my thinking is that if the City’s usable land is increased in size by new bulkheading on its own submerged lands by around 150,000 square feet that folks might not object to approximately one third of this used for commercial development if that development does not occur in the park but instead surrounds it. I don’t believe you can have a successful public park alongside a busy railroad. The buildings and their locations I have proposed are critically important to serve as visual, sound, and wind buffers for the park. And no, I don’t believe the City Commissioners have the strength to burden the city taxpayers with any bond based on the potential of real estate investments they likely do not understand. The principal goal of my Report is to encourage all interested parties to see the City’s waterfront property in whole and to understand its highest and best use will never be realized by incremental planning or by chopping it up for various business interests. If a plan as grand as I have proposed can ever be realized, it will only be through a public/private partnership where the lion’s share of the risk is assumed on the private side. This is of course how I delivered Fernandina Harbor Marina and Brett’s to the City back in the 80’s. None of it cost the City a dime and all of the risk was taken by others.

DAVE LOTT
DAVE LOTT(@dave-l)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Bob, thanks for your perspective. I think there are many that might argue with your opinion that the marina and Brett’s didn’t cost the city a dime especially with the pending demolition costs in a few years, but I get your point. The marina has issues with regards to the siltation rate that are never going to be solved in its current configuration. I was under the impression that the acquisition of the Front Street Glad property would give the City the riparian rights north of the current marina docks including in front of the Simmon’s parcel as the old docks certainly crossed the north property line.. Perhaps that is not the case although it would be nice to get a definitive answer.
From my perspective, the City has sufficient land currently for a nice riverfront park as evidenced by the 2012 approved plan. Given the history of the fits and starts over the last 20+ years, I’m not sure I will see anything really happen in my lifetime. Doesn’t have to be anything grand, but a nice park could serve as an enhanced gathering spot for residents as well as visitors.
Have you ever talked to the O’Conner’s about the RV resort on their property by the airport? .

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  DAVE LOTT

Dave, I like Chip Ross but, truthfully, he and Dale Martin are completely clueless on the issues involved at the marina and the City’s waterfront. When I read Chip’s rebuttal of my waterfront plan, I found myself chuckling at every paragraph. He states “to expand the marina, it must go north. This option has been studied extensively” and I wonder studied by who? I am sure it has never been studied by anyone with any experience operating a boat along the shoreline north of the marina during an ebb tide. If you have wondered why the marina silts up and the shorelines north of the marina are constantly being eroded away, it is because of the volumes of water flowing out of the Bells River in ebb tides. The area for the proposed expansion of the marina is one of the most turbulent areas in the entire Amelia River. Only the most experienced mariners could safely operate small boats around new docks in this proposed expansion area and where is there an adequate break water in this plan? There is none. How many times do the portions of the marina exposed to the north have to be destroyed for it to be finally figured out that any marina structures at the City’s location not adequately protected from storm waves are temporary?

My opinion of the 2012 plan is that it is little more than lipstick on a pig. Where do users of the marina or users of the businesses at the marina actually park?

Generally, Dave, I agree with you. I don’t think we will see any substantial improvements to the City’s waterfront in our lifetimes. It is not because the assignment is impossible. It is because the City simply does not have the human resources to pull it off.

No, I have no continuing in interest in building a high end RV facility on Amelia Island. It is not worth having another argument with folks who don’t understand what it is all about.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

I 100% agree with Bob Allison’s proposal. Even if it may need tweaking. I, somewhat recently, spoke to a knowledgeable marina manager who said “silt happens”. As it is 100% proven that the south end of our marina is an insidious example of this – why wouldn’t the city fill it in and (almost) solve a number of problems? The elected officials of Fernandina Beach have a decades-long history of doing nothing except but to debate the issue – so let’s get something in the hopper! We can get wide open spaces, a retained excellent sunset view – plus a little more unobtrusive but needed parking. It just cannot be this hard.

DAVE LOTT
DAVE LOTT(@dave-l)
8 months ago
Reply to  Frank Quigley

Frank, if it wasn’t such a complex problem with so many conflicting elements it would have been solved decades ago. Filling in the southern part of the marina without providing for alternative docks to the north will ruin the financial state of the marina even more than it currently exists. Robert Semmes with ATM and his team developed a plan back a decade ago calling for a reconfiguration to the north. ATM is an expert in hydrology and this type of work. The plan was stymied was stymied as then City Manager Bob Mearns reported that the landowners to the north with the riparian rights had absolutely no interest in selling. Of course since that time the City has acquired one of those parcels – I thought the parcel that carried the riparian rights all the way down to the current marina boundary but others have disputed that. City tried to acquire the Simmons property under eminent domain but Simmons was able to get an appraisal of $2.3 million and the city wisely backed away. The 2012 plan did not result in any loss of parking as that was a requirement of the City Commission at the time of its design. The boat ramp in the middle of the property creates all kind of design issues but there is no viable alternative location and its closure is not economically or politically possible.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  DAVE LOTT

Dave, you have aroused my curiosity here by stating “ATM is an expert in hydrology and this type of work.” Where did you get this information from? Also, you state there is “no viable alternative location of the boat ramp” and yet the Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp is less than two miles away and its use doesn’t tangle up two City streets or put even more demand on the limited City parking. Yes, the boat ramp in the middle of the property does create all kinds of design issues but no one at City Hall has the courage to stand up and say “the ramp has got to go”. The ramp is actually the antithesis of the green space that all agree is needed on the City’s waterfront.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Hi Bob. Glad you are still watching the thread. I get frustrated because literally every proposal (marina and otherwise) comes with a “but”. Like in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure where he explains that everybody has a “but”. Can you clear something up? Would your fill-in land preclude the marina from having the same number of boat slips for long or short-term dockage? It just doesn’t seem like it should be a given.

Also agree Dee Dee Bartels is not far away. City ramp gets very little actual use based on the times I’ve been down there. The other frustrating “but” is the desire to expand north. Makes sense I suppose but landowners don’t want to sell. So how’s that working out?

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Frank Quigley

Frank, installing new bulkheads at the existing western edge of the marina would have no effect on the number of rentable slips. It is also interesting to note, bulkheads at the locations I have proposed might reduce the City’s ongoing expense for dredging by as much as 50 % and this is a big number. Think in terms of over a million dollars every four years. I would love to address the “expand to the north” idea here but my opinion on this requires more than a few paragraphs. I have written a missive dealing specifically with the idea and you may see it published in a week or so. Needless to say, it is a terrible idea but only those of us who operate boats on the Amelia River actually know why.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

The north end thing? The landlubbers on the council and in government know that the south end is a silt trap because of the way the shoreline curves. And, yes, its removal is a recurring budget item. So to the north it seems straight so ergo less silt. Regardless, if the city cannot acquire the land, which it cannot, that argument is a non-starter. Take it out behind the barn and put it out of its misery. 

Can’t read your mind about the problems expanding north. But I think they include (a) egress & digress. Because the adjoining land is very narrow and is hemmed in by Front Street and an increasingly busier rail track with many more cars per train than days of yore. And, (b) it is very shallow water  and a rocky dump to the north. I’ve been there on a low-draft flats boat and it’s a mess. There would be the need to dredge to get deeper hulled boats in there. 

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Frank Quigley

Frank, there is a reason the south sits up and the north severely erodes away. This is caused by the millions of gallons of water that pour into the Amelia River from the Bells River during each ebb tide. This causes the area for proposed expansion, during an ebb tide, to be the most turbulent and dangerous patch of water anywhere on the entire thousand acres of water that make up the Amelia. Only the most experienced of mariners could operate a boat at this location during a falling tide and still it would sketchy.
The plan for docks in the area does not show a breakwater so it should also be understood by all that the docks will be temporary and destroyed in the next weather event producing strong winds and seas from the north. All in all…expanding to the north is just a terrible idea.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison(@bob-allison)
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob Allison

Dave, you might want to take one more look at my plan. It does not eliminate one single slip at the marina. What it does eliminate is a couple of thousand square feet of spartina marsh grass and approximately three acres of useless mud. The realignment of the bulkheads I have proposed should dramatically reduce the City’s need for dredging saving around a million dollars in this operation which has needed to take place on a schedule of around every four years.

Michael Manzie
Michael Manzie (@guest_66917)
8 months ago

All,
This conversation has been quite enlightening and educational. I applaud all that have taken time thus far to comment. There are solutions here. We can’t roll over and die without accomplishments being made. All need to continue to keep this in the forefront.
There can be a little taken from all the suggestions and in the end a Grand Plan can be formulated.