Little More Parking Space Available Downtown

By Mike Lednovich

There was good news and bad news about parking in historic downtown Fernandina Beach at the city commission workshop and regular meeting Tuesday.

The good news is that city commissioners agreed to make North Seventh Street a one-way road that will be able to provide 26 more parking spaces.

The bad news is that there is no more city owned property for new parking downtown except for the recreation land south of the marina that is currently being planned as a waterfront park.

The parking debate – is there enough, where can the city build more and does the city need a parking garage – went for more than 90 minutes, taking up the entire workshop and part of the regular meeting when drawings of the waterfront park were presented.

Commissioner Chip Ross led the workshop discussion, first detailing the city’s Comprehensive Plan that states the city will ensure “an adequate supply of vehicle parking to serve downtown businesses,” but that adequate supply is left as not defined in the plan.

“Do we believe there is adequate parking or do we believe there is a problem? If you can’t define (adequate parking) you can’t solve the problem,” Ross said.

The heart of the parking debate took place when Thomas and Hutton Principal and Land Planning/Landscape Architecture Manager Ryan Thompson reviewed concept drawings of the waterfront park south of the Atlantic Seafood building.

Mayor Bradley Bean, an advocate of the waterfront park plan, asked the designers about the boat trailer parking spaces allotted in the revised design.

“We maintain all our boat trailer spots and we maintain all our parking, is that correct?” Bean said. “I don’t want to lose any parking spots. That’s very important to me and it’s very important to the community.”

The designers told Bean there were 17 boat trailer parking spaces in the current design.

Charter boat Captain Allen Mills was the first of five speakers to make the case that more parking spaces to accommodate downtown businesses should take priority over using the land for a waterfront park.

“We have the best parking area for this downtown community than any downtown area. For the past seven years there have been 180 cars parked in lots C & D. This island is growing and everybody wants to park downtown,” Mills said. “We are park rich. None of our parks, we have nine, are full occupancy. Why do we need another park?”

Mac Morris said the massive Wildlight development near I-95 “will pressure us for more parking.” He told commissioners that the gravel pits that were used for petanque should be left in place and used as additional spaces.

The elaborate landscaping and added multi-functional performance stage, restrooms and small playground in the plan would be an added burden on city taxpayers, argued Mike Sharp.

“You’re proposing a destination without providing additional parking,” Sharp said. “What happened to the low maintenance plan? That (the plan) is going to be expensive to maintain. We pay enough (taxes), it’s time to cut that back.”

One speaker supporting the waterfront park plan was Fernandina Main Street Director Lisa Finkelstein.

“People will find a place to park. Tens of thousands of people came downtown last week and managed to find a place to park,” she said. “If people want to visit something they will find a way.”

Vice Mayor David Sturges said the initial waterfront park plans should be revised to include access to the planned grassy area that will replace petanque courts in order for more parking as needed.

The commission then agreed to proceed with further developing the waterfront park plans.

There were scarce other options to be considered to add more parking during the commission workshop.

City staff identified a privately owned space that the city could consider leasing for parking.

The lot, located on South Fifth Street, would have room for 20 spaces.

“It’s something to consider. They’re agreeable to lease this to the city at a reasonable cost,” said Operations Director Jermiah Glisson. “but the owner could at any time say we’re going in another direction and the city would have to vacate that lot. It’s an opportunity that we could pursue.”

Mayor Bean maintained that Fernandina Beach does not have a parking problem.

“There’s never been a case where I’ve gone downtown, I’ve gone busiest times, on Friday nights, Saturday nights and there’s never been a single example of where I haven’t been able to find within the four blocks of downtown between Beech and Alachua,” Bean said.

Commissioner Darron Ayscue said defining adequate parking was a difficult question to answer.

“It really depends on the day and time,” he said. “There’s times when it’s really busy and there’s times when it’s not so bad. Peak season, summer time, it’s going to be difficult to find parking. But sometimes during the off season you can park on Centre Street.”

The idea of building a parking garage failed to garner support from commissioners because of the lack of property and the cost to build it, which Commissioner Ross estimated at between $7 million to $9 million.

Public comment on the parking issue included concerns that relying on downtown residential streets for parking would eventually ruin the historic character of nearby neighborhoods.

“I would be very careful about our continuous conversations about cramming parking (downtown). Once we lose our intimate spaces on this island, Fernandina will be gone,” said Paul Lorre.

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Noble Member
10 days ago

since the article mentioned Wildlight, what about a light rail/trolley from Wildlight to downtown Fernandina, using the existing rail tracks? With a stop or 2 in between, say at FL 200 and US-17 and the Publix in Yulee at FL 200 and Chester Road. Obviously would need to upgrade the rail line, but the tracks and land are already there.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
10 days ago

This is what happens when there is lack of understanding of supply and demand. Don’t over think this.

Those that fail to plan are planning to fail.

People are coming they get here by driving vehicles. If the city think it’s a problem then create more if not don’t.

What do you think is going to happen to demand for parking when all the development downtown is completed?

Parking is already not free it’s just that the only people paying for it are the taxpayers who own property in the city. If you are one of these lucky ones like me you need to ask our “Leaders” why are others getting a free ride?

If you think the city is competent at managing our assets you haven’t been paying attention.

Trusted Member
9 days ago
Reply to  Alan Hopkins

Parks & Recreation Impact Fees are excessive considering the other impact fees, That’s why there’s funds to build the park. Unfortunately, the City has insufficient funds to maintain what we have now.

Parking is the problem. The commission isn’t thinking ahead. Fernandina is a tourist destination, They come by cars. We are telling you that parking is and will be a problem. It’s laughable that we’re trying shoehorn a couple of spaces here and there.

Noble Member
10 days ago

Fernandina Main Street Director Lisa Finkelstein is paid by the City. Her comments are influenced by her allegiance.
Not that her opinion is incorrect, just note that she is in essence, a City employee and her comments should be viewed in that context.

Trusted Member
9 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Main Street is a non-profit. Main Street is paid $40K a year for hr services. During her tenure, she has expanded Main Street’s boundaries to include a lot more that just downtown. She muscled her way onto her position on the CRA,

Active Member
10 days ago

Downtown parking becomes a problem when businesses complain
they are losing customers because there is no place to park.

Further, any waterfront design must be dual-purpose–primary use parking
secondary use “parking”. This design fails to meet that requirement.

Do not build this just because you have the money. Think.

10 days ago

There was a proposal to purchase the USPS building (or lease space?) for use of City Hall. Don’t remember when that proposal died. Anyway, that made City Hall building available to be demolished and all of that area available for a parking garage. Maybe a relook?

Active Member
10 days ago

Ms. Finkelstein is correct “People will find a place to park.” The problem is they park in areas where there are no regulations and no limits. Recently a city police officer was writing a ticket to someone parked blocking my neighbor’s driveway. While doing so another driver pulled up and partially blocked my driveway. When the officer told him he couldn’t he was shocked and upset that anyone would object to his parking in such a way. South 4th street has now gotten to the point that at least two nights per week people are parked all along the street, willy nilly, with no concern for the accessibility of the residents to their own property. That does not include the weekends where the parking situation can start as early as late morning. Parking is an issue! It is easy for those who live outside the area to ignore the problems created by cars parked without restrictions. What about emergency vehicle access? What about simply backing out of your driveway with traffic and parked cars to now consider? The city has long ago conceded to the interests of everyone other than the residents and property owners downtown. A simple stroll in the evening often involves worrying about getting down the street without being struck by traffic influenced by cars parked everywhere.

10 days ago

The secret to a happy life? Finding the perfect parking spot—it’s all about “park”-sonal satisfaction!

Trusted Member
10 days ago

The city should consider moving city hall outside of downtown, possibly leasing one of the many vacant commercial spaces (like the former Coastal Home Furnishings store on 14th St., for example). The building could then be removed to provide more parking.

9 days ago

The idea of moving City Hall and repurposing and existing building makes a lot of sense really. The old furniture store certainly has ample parking and is a central location.

The old Coca – Cola bottling plant might qualify as historic however and it’s not a big lot so tearing it down for parking doesn’t provide much space.

What is to become of the property where the old hospital was torn down on 14th street? That could be place to locate City Hall perhaps.

Creating space where the waterfront can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike seems to be a good thing bs parking cars We do need to keep the same number of trailer spots and the boat ramp too. I’m sure we have all
been to sleepy downtown St. Mary’s GA. The water front park funded by the Gillman Foundation/ paper mill is a very Nice space and used by many.

Is it time to revisit paid parking got at least the main beach lot? If you notice Salt Life will be packed and their parking lot is empty . They put the front door on the wrong side of building.
Their guests park on the street and in the lot. Folks will always park as close to where they want to go. Just human nature .

A parking garage would be quite expensive . But perhaps a public /private partnership could be done.
you could bridge over south second street between city hall . Span the old hitting plant and have traditional store
fronts along the sidewalk . The city provides a 99 year lease for the land. A developer builds it and operates it and keeps the profits. Certainly would not look any worse that the Hampton and Suites just across the street.


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