Waterfront Dispute Comes Down to a Park or More Parking Spaces

By Mike Lednovich

The race is on to determine whether a waterfront park in Fernandina Beach finally becomes a reality.

The Fernandina Beach City Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to spend $95,000 to hire a firm to complete engineering plans for the park’s construction.

Prior to the vote, opponents of building the park told commissioners why the park was a bad idea, citing a lack of adequate parking in the historic downtown. They said they have marshaled a formal group to collect signatures to have the issue placed on the ballot for a vote by residents.

“In short, this park makes the waterfront accessible for all,” said Mayor Bradley Bean. “If you are here, if you are concerned about parking, I have great news: this plan keeps every parking spot. In fact, it increases the number of boat trailer spots.”

Bean also said the permanent petanque courts will be removed to create a “flex” space to be used as the public deems necessary.

After Bean’s remarks, 15 speakers addressed the commission regarding the waterfront park proposal. Ten speakers, including three charter boat captains, said the park was a flawed concept.

Michael Sharpe and Mac Morris said they are leading a petition drive to have citizens vote on the waterfront park.

“I am part of a team that is going to put an ordinance for the city and to put voting on the waterfront plans to the citizens. And, to put it on the taxpayers who pay for everything including for the lights here,” Morris said.

City Clerk Caroline Best said Sharpe has filed all of the necessary paperwork to begin the process of placing the waterfront park issue on the ballot. The next step for Sharpe and Morris is to collect approximately 1,100 petition signatures necessary to qualify as an election ballot measure.

“If you waste $100,000 of our taxpayer money on park plans (with us) having a very good, almost inescapable chance of collecting enough signatures to stop it … this will not pass voter muster,” Sharpe said.

Charter boat Captain Allen Mills said the 16 petanque courts currently take up 10,400 square feet of space.

“That’s 38 and half more parking spaces we can have. You can put Sounds on Centre at the gazebo there. We could do the festival, the market would be awesome,” he said. “You need to get parking. You have all kinds of restaurants being built, a new hotel coming in, they need parking. You’re not doing anything about these attractions for parking.”

John Abbott, a retired architect and officer of the local petanque club, was one of five speakers in support of the waterfront park plan.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of this park plan,” he said. “I can tell you why park plans like this fail. They’re too invested in complex geometries, maybe some exotic materials, a little bit over the top with their architectural components. This plan has none of that. This plan is very modest, very simple. It’s very achievable.”

Abbott urged the commission to “give this plan a chance.”

“This plan, it’s got a great balance of hardscape, landscape, open space, architectural elements that will equip the needs for recreation, relaxing and special events,” he said,

Vice Mayor David Sturges, who voted against awarding the contract, opposed the petanque courts being included in the park.

“Even though I know it’s a ‘flex’ space, I think that area needs to be parking,” Sturges said before the vote.

Sturges said he also believes the petition drive to have voters decide the waterfront park proposal will succeed.

“I’ll be among the 1,100 people signing a petition,” he said.

Bean ended the discussion with, “We’re doing this because we need a place for the community to come together. And that again is what this park is.”

The $1 million-plus cost of the park will be funded by city Parks and Recreation impact fees. There is currently a little more than $3 million in the fund.

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1 month ago

As a downtown homeowner who has been waiting 23 years for an open space, multi use, waterfront park, I say, get this done!
A perfect spot for sounds on centre, the farmers market, and plain enjoyment on the river. If we aren’t loosing parking spots, then what’s the argument?
We deserve this beautiful open space, Be the commission that finally follows through….

Frank Beans
Frank Beans(@frank-beans)
1 month ago

Either option has to really upset the residents of the Island – using their taxpayer money for a project that non-island people would use – either a park for tourists to enjoy or parking for more downtown business customers. Based on reading the Observe the last few years I am surprised.

Noble Member
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank Beans

those dern “non-island” people. Surprised you people haven’t printed “You have seen Fernandina Beach, now go home” bumper stickers yet.

james brooks
james brooks(@james-brooks)
1 month ago

If you have been following the discussions the last few years you could only conclude that the tax payers of the city are actually a philanthropic group funding the marina, the golf course, the ball fields and etc for tourists and county residents. A good business person would have made all of these profit centers and cut our taxes. A small consolation for the loss of our town.

I have digressed. Why not eliminate the boat ramp, the petanque courts and charge visitors for parking to hire more police and fire fighter.

[email protected](@bev-lawrence23gmail-com)
1 month ago

$3 Million available from Parks & Recreation impact fees!!! 90 thousand for a plan. The Walk & Bike Task Force did an excellent job on a walking & biking plan. Maybe they could reconvene and recommend worthwhile projects to spend recreational impact fees.

1 month ago

Estimated use of impact fees for projects that have been conceptually approved by the City Commission

Ybor Alverez soccer fields  $1 million +/-
Downtown waterfront park $750,000 +/-
Softball fields relocated from the airport $300,000 +/-
Practice field on school board property $75,000 +/-
Bathrooms at Hickory Fields $50,000 +/-
Design of Hickory Street bike path $350,000 +/-

chip ross