Go Figure: Park Discussion Was All Over the Waterfront

By Mike Lednovich

Hodgepodge perfectly describes what happened during discussion Tuesday on what began as design specifications for the waterfront and downtown but morphed into a sidebar about the marina boat ramp and then devolved into a debate over the proposed waterfront park concept.

When the smoke finally cleared 40 minutes later, the city commission voted 4-1 to have Marquis + Latimer & Halback work on the design guidelines for the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and the Historic District Council.

Confusion? You bet.

Interim City Manager Charlie George began by explaining that the consulting contract was to update the guidelines for building projects within the CRA and HDC.

“These are guidelines that are used to evaluate if a project fits within those districts of what the city wants,” George explained. “Things like colors, patterns, types of materials, roof heights, sidewalks, (specs) these agencies use to determine if a project permit is compliant or not compliant.”

George then began to address citizens’ “angst” over reports of closing the city marina boat ramp and concerns about the lack of parking for the waterfront park concept.

Mayor Bradley Bean decided to discuss all matters related to the waterfront. Bean invited speakers who had nothing to say about design specifications but wanted to talk more about the marina and waterfront.

The small group of public speakers – six in all – presented city commissioners with the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of the proposed waterfront park concept.

Three speakers opposed the park concept including Mike Sharpe, who is leading a petition drive to have approval of the park plan put to a possible voter referendum. Three others, including a former mayor, the leader of the local petanque club and the chair of the city advisory group that came up with the concept spoke in support.

Again, none of this had anything to do with design elements.

Marian Phillips, who sits on the city’s Marina Advisory Board, has opposed every proposed concept for a formal, multi-use park brought before the commission.

“We have to protect our working waterfront,” Phillips said. “A park is plants and trees. I have no problem with that. If you start changing that waterfront from the way its always been, I’m not for that.”

Bean deviated from the waterfront park and changed the topic to the boat ramp. After 15 minutes, city commissioners agreed the boat ramp was staying.

Now it was back to the issue of the waterfront park.

Mac Morris, the administrator of the Facebook group page Amelia Island-Fernandina Beach Network, spoke to the city commission’s ability to change parking requirements to add more parking spaces to lots C and D. He addressed the issue of the existing petanque courts adjacent to the parking lots.

“Let’s expand the petanque courts at Central Park,” he told commissioners. “Put some (of the courts) in the sun so they have winter and summer courts. Like ShrimpFest, I think the international petanque tournament should apply for a permit and you can put temporary courts there (at parking lot C and D). To be permanent (at the waterfront), I don’t know how that serves our community. It doesn’t make it multi-functional any more.”

Interim City Manager Charlie George said the current petanque courts are not permanent at the waterfront parcel.

“There are timbers staked in the ground and can be pulled up at any time for any event,” George said. “The goal is to use this as a multi-use (area) like ShrimpFest or the Farmer’s Market. You have the ability to do that. My thought has always been you have to balance the natural components of a waterfront that has landscaping, benches, recreational areas with the parking. You don’t want to turn your waterfront into a parking area. It (the concept) does allow some flexibility to adjust for heavy use events.”

Next up was Sharpe, who asserted that opposition to the waterfront park was “widespread and growing.”

He said there was no rush to approve the plan. “You don’t need to go to war with your constituents over this. It’s a losing position. Stop the funding for the plan until you can get something that a majority of us agree on and can live with.”

Lisa Finkelstein, chair of the city’s Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board (CRAAB) and the director of Main Street, said she would like to start with a park concept from a “position of agreement.”

She said when CRAAB began considering what should be included in the park concept they reviewed previous citizens priorities from past park efforts.

Finkelstein said people wanted views of the sunsets, the ability to walk along the river, a place for music and entertainment, a walking connection to downtown and shade trees.

“We prioritized these into the design. We worked 21 different elements into the design that was presented to you,” she said. “I’d like to start with those positive things. The things that we feel that everybody was in agreement with.”

Former Mayor Robin Lentz urged commissioners to “pull the trigger” on the waterfront park plans. During her tenure on the commission, waterfront park efforts were proposed and failed.”We have bins of (past) plans for a waterfront park,” she said referring to more than 20 years of efforts to develop a park. “To hear Mr. Sharpe say don’t rush into this….pull the trigger guys, pull the trigger. From a parent’s viewpoint, me and my crowd of friends support the park plans that were put forward.”

Support by the local petanque club was voiced by John Abbott, a retired architect and officer of the local petanque club.

“I actually think it’s a very good park plan. It’s simple, straightforward and very affordable. One aspect I keep hearing about is that it’s very flexible,” Abbott said, in speaking as an architect.

Abbott changed gears and talked about the petanque club and its involvement in the park concept.”I see the concern from some community members about the amount of land we are occupying. I get it,” Abbott said. “The club would be onboard to change that terrain so it was more in keeping to be open as part of that flex space to part of what is otherwise a great park plan. Our club is onboard with being a player in understanding how to make this park work. We know we’re one element of it. And we’re willing to work with you to revise the layout so it is not particular to petanque and is more open to public access.”

More than 30 minutes had passed, forcing Bean to pivot back to the agenda item – design specifications.

“With that I’ll remind you guys what the item is,” Bean declared. “We’re talking about the design guidelines for the historic district.”

The vote was taken, and eventually those revised guidelines may come into play when a waterfront park construction plan is submitted, as well as the planned renovation of the historic downtown.

7 Comments
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Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
1 month ago

I have lived near and visited many urban and suburban waterfront cities in towns. The most-loved by the people who live there are those that allow pedestrian access, lots of greenscape and quiet, a mix of shade and sun, and great views. Through all the different plans that have reached the city commission, that is exactly what the great majority of people here want – a non-commercial, pedestrian-friendly, and nature-oriented waterfront. That should be the plan.

Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
1 month ago

“Another step forward on the waterfront” was the article I read yesterday…..it was shorter and just reported the pertinent issues (like Suanne used to do). I thought I was experiencing deja vu this morning reading this one as it’s about an 80% copy of the original, but now it has been embellished to take shots at Bean for a chaotic debate. The original article is now gone (along with the comments)……

The overtly personal bashing is getting a bit ridiculous……..I understand it (I lost an election on the runoff after leading going in. It hurt.)…….I don’t like it and think that type of reporting doesn’t belong here……but I understand it.

Mike Lednovich
Trusted Member
Mike Lednovich(@mike-lednovich)
1 month ago
Reply to  Douglas M

Douglas M: the original article was taken down because it was inaccurate reporting. The vote had nothing to do with advancing the waterfront park as first reported. The rewrite was to clarify exactly what was and in what order was discussed. It explains how other waterfront issues got mixed in with the agenda item that was only to award a consulting contract to update design guidelines for the CRA and Historic District. Reporters make mistakes and then correct them. This one is on me. End of story.

Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lednovich

Who was the one who voted against the update of design guidelines…..and why? I missed that in the story.

Mike Lednovich
Trusted Member
Mike Lednovich(@mike-lednovich)
1 month ago
Reply to  Douglas M

Douglas: Commissioner Chip Ross voted against awarding the contract to Marquis Latimer. It wasn’t a vote against revsing the design guidelines. Marquis Latimer had done two previous designs for the city – one for the cemetery and the other a waterfront park design. Neither design was accepted and funded to be built. Based on that past work, he voted no.

Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Lednovich

Thanks, Mike L……that info is more important to me than any chaotic wandering from the agenda. Additionally, any Commission member can always call a “Point of Order” to demand the meeting get back on track. The Parliamentarian should back that request up. Otherwise, if no one objects, the Chair can run the meeting as they please.

Concerned-Citizen
Trusted Member
Concerned-Citizen(@concerned-citizen)
1 month ago

We have recreational facilities and parks that aren’t properly maintained now. The Simmons Park is rarely used, but we had to have it to spend grant money. The Atlantic Recreation Center is in disrepair. A private business is expending their footprint on valuable citizen-owned waterfront property. The petanque courts cater to a few, many not city taxpayers. I’m sure the waterfront park fits within impact fees guideline. If the exorbitant impact fees paid by evil developers are appropriate for this park, why not build more pickleball courts. That’s a real need.