February 16, 2018 12:00 p.m.
A few weeks ago, the City Commission conducted its annual Visioning Workshop. This extended workshop was held at the City’s Golf Course. In addition to the presence of department directors, several residents also attended.
I offered an overview of the goals that were established at last year’s workshop. Three of the goals were attained: reviewing event policies and personnel, improving electronic outreach, and reviewing downtown parking. We failed to accomplish other goals: the acquisition of the former post office, amending the public safety mutual aid agreements with Nassau County, and the redevelopment of the waterfront.
Following that review, the Commissioners were invited to share the issues that were of interest to them. Following that discussion, the Commissioners were asked to prioritize the issues from the list developed.
As expected, the waterfront and marina remained at the top of the list of priority issues. Contrary to some perception, the City has worked closely with state and federal officials to secure the reimbursement funding for the Marina repairs- all documents requested have been provided, dozens of meetings conducted, hundreds of telephone calls exchanges, and the assistance of key state and federal officials enlisted. Unlike several other Florida communities that spent local funds prior to securing federal reimbursement commitments and will not receive federal funds, the City will be reimbursed for nearly ninety percent of the repair costs to the Marina. Under those circumstances, the approximately $6 million needed to repair the Marina will cost the City less than $1 million.
Following the Visioning Workshop, the City Commission held a special meeting to formally award a contract related to the design of the Marina repairs. It is expected that a contractor will be selected to construct the repairs within the next six-eight weeks. The final component of the repairs is the necessary permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Corps has had for review for several months. A determination from the Corps is expected within the next three-four weeks.
As has been deliberated for years, the development of other areas of the waterfront is desired. The City has submitted a request for State funding to examine and restore the bulkhead adjacent to the Marina. The existing bulkhead is several decades old, and likely near the end of its effective lifespan. Prior to committing significant resources to the development of the waterfront property, it is necessary to review the stability and strength of the wall supporting that property. The anticipated funding will enable the City to be better prepared for storm surges in that area.
The City has received the appropriate permit to demolish the structure located at 101 N. Front Street (the waterfront property located somewhat across the street from the Salty Pelican). I expect that as part of the Marina repair efforts, the selected contractor can be utilized to demolish the structure. After the demolition, the permit requires any subsequent construction to begin by early 2023 and be completed no more than a year following. The City Commission will have to determine how to utilize that site: leave undeveloped, self-develop, lease, or sell.
Another priority established by the City Commission was to implement a formal plan of project management. City staff utilizes a series of internal documents for project management, but, admittedly, those documents are somewhat dated and informal. City staff has worked to formalize and prepare a more thorough project management format that can be accessed and reviewed by City Commissioners. This goal should be relatively easy to implement in a relatively short time (and include a review and necessary revision of the City’s Purchasing Policies).
The next priority was to develop ordinances and policies to support a stronger natural conservation effort within the City. The City, through the foresight of previous leaders, secured a key natural environmental asset in the Egans Creek Greenway. What other properties can serve a similar purpose and be acquired by the City? How can funds be properly allocated and expended for that purpose? It appears that the City has existing ordinances that may be modified to accomplish this goal. City staff will work to prepare appropriate revisions for the purpose of conservation.
Completing the first five priorities was parking, specifically as related to the beaches. This issue is about the consideration of paid parking in an effort to capture revenue to accommodate the rising costs of maintenance and care of beach parking lots and beach accesses. Those facilities are used by residents and visitors alike, but it is City residents who bear the burden of the costs of those facilities through their local taxes. The City Commission wants to examine the use of paid parking to reduce the burden on local taxes. This discussion will require more research and planning.
I’ll share the final City Commission priorities next week.