Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 5, 2018 1:54 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) conducted its annual visioning session on January 24, 2018, at the Fernandina Beach Golf Course. The session, moderated by City Manager Dale Martin, discussed priority projects identified by City Commissioners. The proposed goals have subsequently been refined to provide more specific direction and metrics. The City Commission has placed the goals on two meeting agendas for review and, if appropriate, possible revision prior to formally adopting them as Fiscal Year 2018/2019 goals. At their April 3, 2018 Regular Meeting, the FBCC made a cursory review of the proposed goals, opting instead to proceed with engineering studies of the railroad and the seawall before proceeding to finalize the goals, probably in May.
The latest draft of the goals is provided below:
Both Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Chip Ross had prepared lengthy documents in advance of the meeting with their suggested input for the identified goals. They had asked that their comments be forwarded to all the commissioners for consideration.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger started discussion on April 3 with the timetable for FBCC established priorities that he had provided. The underlying priority for his waterfront goals was an engineering study to determine the state of the existing seawall. He called for a workshop so that the FBCC could together determine what exactly they expect to happen with respect to timetables.
Commissioner Chip Ross disagreed on the need for a workshop, calling for the FBCC to make decisions during the current discussion. Ross suggested that instead of “kicking the can down the road,” the commissioners use Kreger’s 4-page list as a discussion document and proceed through the elements Kreger had highlighted.
Ross presented his own drawing representing all the elements that would need to come together for the city to redevelop the waterfront: the Atlantic Seafood building, boat ramp, seawall, Brett’s, the Osteen/Simmons property, future use of city-owned Vuturo property, and the railroad. He suggested that until fixes for these problems, along with cost estimates, can be proposed, a workshop is premature.
Kreger agreed with Ross on the immediate need for an engineering study to determine the soundness of the seawall and underpinnings of current city parking lots A and B. He said that the results of such study would provide the city with an opportunity to apply for millions of dollars of local mitigation strategy grants. He also agreed that the railroad study was needed to determine if Front Street would need to be moved to the west. “Time is critical,” Kreger said.
Ross asked if anyone on the commission disagreed with the need to move forward immediately with the two engineering studies. No one disagreed, but Commissioner Roy Smith added that he has been calling for such studies for the past 9-10 months but no action had been taken.
It was the consensus of the FBCC to move forward with the two engineering studies, and they so directed the City Manager.
Ross also asked if any commissioner objected to obtaining appraisals of the Osteen/Simmons property to see if it might be worthwhile for the city to consider purchasing that property. Smith said that he did not want to buy property for which the city had no planned use. Ross clarified that he was not suggesting purchasing the property at this time, but felt the information was important, especially in light of the railroad and waterfront engineering studies. Kreger suggested that the property was important as part of a mitigation strategy and that the owner might need to pay for stabilization efforts.
Ross did not disagree with Kreger but circled back to the more general question of an appraisal just to see how much money the city might need to purchase it if required for an as yet unidentified project. It was the consensus of the commission to obtain an appraisal.
City Attorney Tammi Bach reminded commissioners that while they could move forward with an appraisal to obtain a general estimate of the cost of the property, should the city decide to purchase the property, they would need two estimates.
Ross reiterated his failure to see the need for a workshop, agreeing to work through the list that Kreger had provided to reach commission consensus on other priorities.
Mayor John Miller interjected that going through Kreger’s list would take a couple of hours. Since commissioners had not prepared to do that during the current meeting, he suggested that the discussion should continue in a workshop, before which commissioners would be provided with all the information they would need to consider. Smith agreed. Chapman said that there is a need to have the engineering study results prior to a workshop.
Kreger supported the need for the engineering studies before making decisions. “Some of these goals are easy, others are more complex,” he said. “It takes a little more time when we decide how to involve the PAB [Planning Advisory Board]. It’s worth sitting down at a table in a public meeting to work through this. It’s really important. In my mind this waterfront project needs to be done.”
Ross conceded on the workshop provided that the engineering studies and appraisal move forward. He added another proviso: that every commissioner put pen to paper identifying their ideas and concerns so that the city manager could consolidate everything into one document to help all the commissioners understand the various positions ahead of the workshop.
Commissioners apparently supported this approach.
Rebecca Raymond, speaking on behalf of the Amelia Tree Conservancy, was the only audience member to speak to the original list of goals. She stressed the importance of having a fulltime, certified city arborist on staff as part of the FBCC’s conservation goal and creation of a volunteer tree commission. City Clerk Caroline Best also read an email from Diana Herman echoing Raymond’s comments supporting a need for a fulltime arborist.
The Goals Workshop will be held on April 24, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. in City Hall Chambers.
Commissioner Smith asked if the April 24thdate would allow sufficient time for engineering studies to be completed. City Manager Dale Martin explained that depending on the cost for engineering services, the studies might have to be bid, which would a 30-day notice. But if the cost came within parameters for CCNA bids, it might be able to be done more quickly.
Ross and Kreger stressed that the workshop would deal with goals only and could go forward without engineering estimates. Kreger said, “The workshop is an opportunity for us to sit down and make sure we are on the same page with respect to priorities.”
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.