Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 17, 2019 – 1:45 p.m.
Many people arrived at the July 16, 2019 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) prepared for long, drawn out discussions and votes on two controversial topics: beach parking and the car-centric project previously proposed for airport land currently leased by Amelia River Golf Course. To their surprise, bafflement and relief, neither project had been included on the meeting’s agenda, despite earlier announcements to the contrary.
City Manager Dale Martin began the meeting by addressing these items at Mayor John Miller’s request.
With respect to the beach parking issue, Martin read an email that he had sent earlier to a woman asking to be able to make a presentation on the topic. In the email he indicated that he was speaking for himself but copying Commissioners to allow them to overrule his decision, if they so desired.
He read from parts of the ordinance which said that the current parameters of beach parking could not be reduced by the FBCC without first considering results of a study.
“At this time,” Martin read, “I do not believe that a majority or any commissioner wishes to reduce the designated parking area [at the Sadler Road Beach Access]. Without such interest or support any study is moot. I do not foresee any further action by the City Commission to reduce or eliminate beach parking at Sadler Road/Seaside Park unless unanticipated events or behavior warrant such consideration. The Commission may, however, explore better ways to manage beach parking there but not reducing or eliminating it. If my perception of the City Commission is wrong, I will most likely be corrected this evening.”
With respect to the car-centric development proposal for the airport property, Martin said, “There is no need for the City Commission to take further action on the proposed development, because they [would] have to take affirmative action. With no [proposed] action before them, the matter is basically dead. For city staff to engage in any negotiations, we would need permission of the FBCC. If the FBCC is not offering that, there is no reason for us to enter into negotiations. So that, too, is moot at this time.”
Steve Leggett, president of Signature Land, the proposed developer of the car-centric proposal withdrew his project as presented for consideration at the June 18, 2019 FBCC meeting .
He has not submitted a subsequent proposal, and the Amelia River Golf Course remains under valid lease from the city.
“Nothing prevents any applicant from presenting proposals to the City Commission, which must be considered when they are formally presented,” Martin added.
Martin informed the audience that there is nothing before the FBCC for consideration now or in the foreseeable future on beach parking or the Amelia River lease or alternative development for that property.
Following Martin’s announcement, Vice Mayor Len Kreger made a minor correction. He said that he favors eliminating beach parking, but the rest of the Commission does not. He expressed his respect for the decision of the Commission as a whole.
“I will tell you,” Kreger said, “our Comprehensive Plan does require a comprehensive study of policy regarding beach parking in total. We should be proceeding with that in my mind. It involves looking at multilevel structures and working with various people. I will also say that the city and the county are not in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. We do not have a beach habitat conservation plan or an incidental take program. And that’s a violation of federal law.”
Kreger said that he was working with city and county staff to get the required study done. He announced that at the August 6, 2019 FBCC meeting he has included a Discussion Item on this topic.
“I will also proceed with compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” Kreger said, adding that the city has a beach management plan that requires ADA beach access at Seaside Park. “Handicapped people cannot get to the beach or across the beach at that park as required. We need to fix that, and I will proceed to work publicly on that.”
Following these remarks, many members of the audience departed, although some chose to deliver remarks on these topics during the Public Comments portion of the agenda. Mayor Miller reminded audience members of the rules for speakers and asked that in respect for everyone’s time, speakers should limit themselves to providing new information to consider, as opposed to repeating remarks and positions of previous speakers. Eight people thanked the FBCC for listening to the public but also spoke to express their opposition to elimination of beach parking, imposing beach parking fees and opposition to a driving course on the Amelia River property.
Mayor Miller noted that almost an hour of the meeting had been taken up hearing public input on items that the FBCC was not even considering, thereby delaying the business portion of the meeting as laid out in the meeting agenda. He suggested that the FBCC might want to consider reordering future meeting agendas so that public input is taken after the evening’s business is concluded.
The Fernandina Observer reminds its readers that FBCC meeting agendas are posted on bulletin boards in all city buildings as well as online a week in advance of meetings. By the weekend prior to a meeting, the entire agenda packet is available online.
The FBCC may not take action on items that have not been publicly advertised a day in advance of meetings. Therefore, any matter that was not on the agenda but which was brought up by a member of the public during Public Input may be noted for future action, but cannot be acted upon immediately.
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.