Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 7, 2021
The City of Fernandina Beach developed and advertised RFQ #2020-02 for revisions to its Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code following the 2019 Evaluation and Appraisal Review (EAR) citizen comments and direction from City Commission in February 2020. The City received twelve responses with qualifications. After evaluating the qualifications, the RFQ Evaluation Committee recommended four for consideration by the Planning Advisory Board.
The Planning Advisory Board (PAB) conducted a half day special meeting on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 to hear presentations from the top four vendors. The board ranked the vendors in order for consideration in a future negotiation following the development of scope of work. WGI ranked highest, and at its October 20, 2020, meeting, the City Commission approved the City Manager to negotiate a final scope and agreement with WGI.
At their May 4, 2021 Regular Meeting the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted 3-2 to approve the agreement to retain WGI at a cost of $100,000 to develop “Fernandina Beach Vision 2045.”
This is Phase 1 of a 2-phase project. The entire project — establishing the City’s 2045 Vision document, providing a full and exhaustive revision to the City’s Land Development Code (“LDC”) and developing specific revisions to the City’s Comprehensive Plan (to include an up-to-date, user-friendly and streamlined document, complete set of goals, objectives, and policies, consistent with the approved Vision 2045 document) — is estimated to cost approximately $400,000.
Commissioners Chip Ross and David Sturges voted in opposition.
Phase 1: Vision 2045
As described in their draft 2-page outline for the project, WGI will engage the public in developing an updated vision for the City. They will review past plans and development of the City’s current Comprehensive Plan. They will consider current and projected City demographics and review such factors as existing built environment, current zoning, cultural amenities and historic structures, recreation and open space, environmental constraints and resources, sea level rise and climate change analysis.
WGI will provide overviews of maps, housing, commercial, transportation and take into account effects of Covid 19 on development, traffic and other factors.
They will produce a vision statement with goals and objectives as well as identifying key actions to realize the identified goals.
The PAB will use the WGI report in reviewing and revising the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code, which will then be presented to the FBCC for consideration.
This is the third City visioning session, and the first with a price tag. The first, undertaken in 1998, was Vision 2000; the second, Vision 2005. Those plans are available on the City website.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger moved to approve Phase 1 for $100,000, and Commissioner Bradley Bean seconded his motion “for discussion purposes.”
PAB Chair Genece Minshew and WGI representative Angela Biaggi addressed the Commissioners. Minshew said that last fall the PAB had issued an RFQ seeking assistance for revising the Comprehensive Plan and LDC, but at the express request of the previous Commission, they expanded the scope of the RFQ to add the visioning component. She added that the cost is reasonable for the work product the PAB expects. She said that the PAB members will work closely with WGI to involve the Fernandina Beach community. Biaggi indicated that visioning is an important step in revising land development policy and code and that WGI looks forward to working with the city to complete Phase 1 by October.
Commissioner Chip Ross said, “I do not think $100,000 is reasonable for a vision plan.” Ross went on to cite aspects of the vision plan that appear to replicate what the City already knows. “Why we are paying a consultant to delve into this again to me is not an effective use of taxpayer money.”
Ross expressed concerns that the process suggested will bring in the “usual suspects” that Commissioners regularly hear from. “I would think that we could find 50-100 people who are experts in our community and ask for their vision on the chapters in Comprehensive Plan. I don’t believe we need a consultant to tell us what we need. … I don’t think we need to spend $100,000.”
Ross also criticized the lengthy vision statement — 50 pages — prepared by the Vision 2000 Committee. He suggested the City would be better served with a one-page vision statement. He also suggested that the PAB, in light of the excellent job they did with the Port Element of the Comprehensive Plan, could take three months to systematically work through the rest of the Plan the same way, thus saving the City another $300,000. He agreed that outside help would probably be needed to address changes to the Land Development Code.
Vice Mayor Kreger reviewed previous actions and charges to the PAB. In light of that, he expressed willingness to support their recommendation. “It’s what we committed to [last fall],” he said. Kreger stressed the importance of the Comprehensive Plan, which although garnering an award, has been proven to contain conflicts that must be resolved.
Commissioner Bradley Bean asked if the WGI proposal was the low bid. City Attorney Bach explained that the RFQ sought qualified firms to do the work. After determining that WGI was the best qualified responder, the City proceeded to work out an agreement. Unlike a response to a bid, under that process cost was not determinative. Bach said that the initial plan was to refresh the Comprehensive Plan, but to rewrite the Land Development Code to remove any conflicting sections and make it easier to use. In response to a concern raised by Commissioner Ross, who cited the age of the Vision 2020 Plan, the scope of work was expanded to include preparing a new vision statement.
Ross admitted that he was the Commissioner who called for a vision plan, which he believes is even more important than the Comprehensive Plan, because visioning drives the Comprehensive Plan. “I just think that spending $100,000 for something that the PAB or others in the community can do is not the way to go.”
“I’ve changed my mind on things since I’ve been in this job,” Ross said. “I’ve become very disillusioned with many of the consultants. We spend a lot of money on them and not much happens. They produce plans without buy-in from the community. I ‘m willing to bet if we go out to the community and ask them what they want, they are going to say, we like it just like it is here in Fernandina Beach. I don’t think we need a consultant at $100,000 to get that result.”
Commissioner David Sturges said, “I have to agree with Chip [Ross]. When first heard about this item, I felt the same way. The only question is how you identify the 50-100 local people to work on the vision plan. I don’t want to spend $100,000 or $400,000 on this, and I can’t support this.”
Mayor Mike Lednovich spoke from his experience in the private sector as to why visioning processes don’t work. “Vision without strategy or implementation is useless,” he said. “Yes, we can invest $100,000 to get this done, but we don’t have $300,000 to do the second Phase. We need that money for infrastructure. My fear is that even if we go forward this plan will go up on the shelf until we have enough money to fund it.”
“My other point,” Lednovich said, “is that this Commission changes every 2 years.” He said this is the reason that strategies fail, citing the waterfront park as an example. “My fear is that with the investment of $100,000 we get Phase 1 done, and then we can’t fund the critical part of strategy and implementation.”
When the vote was called, Ross and Sturges voted no, Bean and Kreger voted yes. Lednovich paused prior to voting, saying that he had hoped to arrive at a win-win solution. “We supported the PAB when they selected WGI. I think when you support something originally you should follow your commitment.” Lednovich continued questioning the funding for the next phase and asked that concerns raised by Ross be addressed. After some soliloquizing, and prompting from Ross and the Deputy Clerk, he voted yes.
On a 3-2 vote the FBCC approved the PAB-backed agreement with WGI for completing citywide visioning at a cost of $100,000.