Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 9, 2020
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) convened in its role as Community Redevelopment Agency for a short meeting on January 7, 2020 immediately preceding the Regular FBCC meeting. Commissioners discussed expanding the Fernandina Beach Main Street boundaries, status of the current Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) plan, meeting schedule, and changes in the state law relating to CRAs.
Expanding Main Street boundaries
Representatives of Fernandina Beach Main Street presented a plan to expand the boundaries of the Main Street project south to encompass businesses along 8th Street and east to include businesses and historic structures along Atlantic Avenue. Genece Minshew, Chair of the Economic Vitality Council and City Planner Jake Platt, who also serves on that Council, presented a map showing the existing and proposed new boundaries.
Minshew explained that the focus of the original Main Street application in 2015 was the Centre Street area. While Main Street continues to work to maintain the vibrancy of the downtown core, she said that the program would like to reach out to neighboring areas. The current boundaries restrict Main Street from reaching out to businesses and historic properties in the greater downtown footprint.
NOTE: Presented above is the plan presented prior to commissioner suggestions for expansion.
The proposed expansion would include waterfront property, properties on the south side of Ash Street, the Amelia Island Museum of History, historic African American churches and the 8th Street corridor, as well as Central Park. Main Street outreach would help new businesses grow and develop in keeping with the feel of the historic downtown.
In addressing the proposed new boundaries, Jake Platt explained that the change would mean that all C-3 zoned properties would be included in Main Street. All the Bed and Breakfasts would be included as well as mixed use properties as far east as Atlantic and 14th Street and south on 8th to Gum Street. He explained the criteria for determining the expanded boundaries: including commercial properties and those that have the potential for commercial development.
Minshew reported that the Main Street Board had approved the expanded boundaries in October 2019, and was now seeking support for that decision from the FBCC. Once the city approves, the changes will be sent to the state for their approval. Following state approval, Fernandina Beach Main Street can begin working on communication plans to include the new areas.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger urged Main Street to extend the southern boundary to Lime Street, taking in 5 additional blocks. This would make Main Street efforts congruent with other efforts in the city to improve that corridor. He asked what Main Street was proposing to do in the expanded boundary area.
Minshew replied that they would be able to work with more businesses to better understand the city’s planning and permitting processes, help them with business planning and preservation projects. They can make property owners aware of grant opportunities.
During discussion, Commissioners recommended expanding the southern boundary to Lime Street on 8th Street; including the School Board property along Atlantic Avenue and including property on the south side of Alachua Street.
Fernandina Beach Main Street Executive Director Arlene Filkoff stressed that there is no intent to do anything with Central Park, because that is already covered under the Parks and Recreation Master Plan. She also further explained that Main Street can offer services to businesses such as marketing and discounted insurance rates.
Filkoff said that the state Main Street is an advocacy program, but because of the state and national level limitations, it can only advocate on behalf of residential properties to a limited extent. She expressed to commissioners the need for an Historic District residential advocacy group, which Main Street cannot fulfill. “The Historic District goes way beyond the reach of Main Street,” she said. “It is considered by many to be the jewel of Fernandina. It certainly is where a big chunk of tax money comes from.” She said that residents have expressed to her that they get “all the pain of a Home Owners Association [via HDC rules] but none of the help.”
Filkoff requested that the city renew its commitment to the Main Street program for 3 more years. Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed that it was important to do this since the FBCC was also recommending a significant increase in the boundaries for the program. Filkoff emphasized that the commitment did not include a financial component.
The FBCC will formally consider endorsing the boundary changes and extending support for the program for another 3 years at its January 21, 2020 Regular Meeting.
Current CRA Plan
Planning Manager Kelly Gibson addressed the CRA/FBCC on the status of the current CRA plan. She asked commissioners if they still saw the plan as relevant to existing goals. She said the plan at age 15 is nearing the end of its life and needs revision. She sought direction on how to proceed.
Vice Mayor Kreger said that while he agreed that the city needed to move forward, he believed that other issues, such as completing the EAR and revising the Comprehensive Plan had priority. “You have limited resources,” Kreger said, “so let’s deal with the mandatory Comp Plan revisions and the EAR. Then we can come back to this issue.”
Commissioner Chip Ross appeared to agree. He said, “We are a small, little town. So let’s get some of these other things done and kick the can down the road on this one.”
Kreger reminded commissioners, “We can’t keep going off on tangents or we won’t get other important things done.”
State changes to laws affecting CRAs
City Attorney Tammi Bach noted that this was the first of such meetings to be held in recent years and called for a more regular meeting schedule. She suggested that since there is more activity anticipated within the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), meetings should be held twice a year. It was the consensus of the FBCC to do so.
Bach also briefed Commissioners on changes in state law affecting CRAs. She reported that effective October 1, 2019 the state has added new requirements:
- Each board member must have 4 hours of ethics training annually;
All procurement must be done according to city purchasing policies;
- A digital map of the CRA boundaries must be available on the city’s website and the CRA website
- CRA audit report must be posted on the website within 45 days
- Department of Economic Opportunity can declare a CRA to be inactive if there is no activity during 6 consecutive years beginning October 1, 2016
- Annual budget required
Bach explained that because the City Commission serves as the Community Redevelopment Agency, most of these requirements do not constitute a change for Fernandina Beach.