Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 11, 2021
Does Fernandina Beach need a community garden at the entrance to the City?
City Commissioner Bradley Bean thinks so.
At the May 4, 2021 Workshop, which preceded the Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) Bean suggested that the City convert the area once occupied by Nassau Lumber & Supply at the entrance to the City on the southwest corner of Lime and 8th Streets to that use. The area, as pictured below, is covered with grass and small to medium sized trees in addition to holding the sign that indicates how many days the City has gone without an accident.
Bean claimed that the City has no community garden, the plot of land is underutilized, and that it would be a “great spot for a community nursery.” He suggested that the City could accept and distribute donated trees to the community from that location. Space that would not be occupied by trees could be converted to a community garden. “I’ve already had multiple people email, text me to find out how they could be part of such an effort,” Bean said. “It would be volunteer driven. The location could be symbolic at the entrance to our City as incorporating our values in terms of conservation and community.”
Bean added that he thought this would be a cost effective project since the City already owns the land “and all we are looking at is a little bit of irrigation, possibly a fence and signs.”
Bean’s suggestion met with mixed reactions from other commissioners.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger supported the idea of a community garden, suggesting an alternative location on 9th Street. He supported it as a community building project.
Commissioner Chip Ross asked what it would cost to bring water to the site. Bean said that if the FBCC supported the concept he proposed that staff scope it out to determine what would be needed and the costs. “how much is a little bit of PVC pipe?” Bean asked, adding that the operation would not need residential grade plumbing.
City Manager Dale Martin in response to a question from Mayor Mike Lednovich offered a preliminary estimate from staff at $20-25,000 for water only.
Ross expressed his concern that while this might be a good idea, it is not part of the City Commission’s Vision Plan and seems to be “another bright, shiny object.”
“We are not focusing on what we all agreed were our top priorities,” Ross said. “We are asking staff to take time and effort to address something that is not in our scope of vision for the year. I also think this is increasing the scope of government. We have private nurseries and we would be competing with them. I think money would be better spent on other projects that are crucial to the City. It’s an interesting idea, but I am not amenable to pursuing it at this time.”
Bean disagreed that the project was not included in the current Vision Plan. He cited the first conservation goal: Review/revise ordinances to provide for enhanced tree protection and mitigation. He did not see this effort as competing with the private sector. “I see the people’s land, and we own this together,” Bean said. “Let the people use their land.”
Commissioner David Sturges reminded commissioners that there was a business on the property previously that had water and electric service. “The water line must be there,” he said. Depending on cost, he agreed that it would be a good idea.
When the City initially acquired this land, it was thought that FDOT would incorporate it into a plan to divert Rayonier traffic from 8th Street to 3rd Street, thus alleviating congestion on 8th Street. That plan did not materialize due to wetlands issues along 3rd Street. Other uses suggested for the property have included a welcome center. Soil contamination from its prior use as a lumberyard, including storing creosoted rail ties, has not been determined.
Ross said that he is not opposed to a community garden, but … “We are a City of 12,000. We already can’t pay for what we have. We keep adding things that we don’t budget the maintenance for. We all want to cut taxes. We want to go to the rollback rate, and yet we keep adding more and more. That is not financially sustainable. We need to fall back and fix what we’ve got. We’ve got walkovers, we’ve got buildings, we’ve got parks. They all need help. And yet we are going to start another project that needs more resources and staff time.”
“We keep chasing more things to do when we’ve got plenty on our plate. That’s why I am opposed,” Ross said.
Commissioners (except Ross) agreed to reconsider the item after costs can be determined as part of the upcoming budget deliberations.
What neither Commissioner Bean nor other commissioners seemed to know is that there is a community garden of sorts located on airport property across from the Nassau Humane Society. A visit over the weekend showed that it is being used to grow flowers and vegetables.
The City of Fernandina Beach signed a license agreement with a small group of local citizens in 2011 to allow them to garden on this plot of land “for the limited purpose of growing fruits and vegetables for use of the Licensee and for distribution to and use by charitable organizations.”
There is no signage on the property; water appears to be available. Emails to a contact person for the group have not been returned. However, those desiring to create a community garden might explore partnering with current licensees or expanding the existing area, which seems to be very suitable to food production.