By Dale Martin
City of Fernandina Beach
April 16, 2021
In 2015, with State funding assistance, the City retained a consultant to prepare a Parks and Recreation Master Plan. From January through April of that year, hundreds of people, both residents and non-residents, responded to surveys and participated in a series of public meetings to develop the foundation for the Master Plan. Subsequently, the Master Plan was unanimously endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (Burton Bright, Chair; Eric Bartelt, John Cotner, Pranab Das, Paul Martinez, Barbara O’Connor, Trudie Richards; and Vice Mayor Johnny Miller, City Commission Liaison) and in October, 2015, unanimously (and with no additional public comment and minimal City Commission comment) adopted by the City Commission. A link to the City of Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Master Plan 2015 can be found on the City’s website: http://www.fbfl.us/DocumentCenter/View/14888.
Almost the first half of the sixty-eight page document details the existing community conditions and a detailed inventory of Parks and Recreation facilities, programs, and services. The following section (Section Three: Needs and Priorities Assessment), staggers through a lengthy effort to quantify Levels of Service based upon national and state standards, incorporating charts and narratives. Finally moving past the theoretical needs rationalized by national models, Section 3 concludes with the “meat” of the document: what does this community want for parks and recreation?
What was identified as the “wants”? The top priorities identified by the Mayor (Mayor Ed Boner) and City Commissioners (Vice Mayor Johnny Miller, Pat Gass, Robin Lentz, and Tim Poynter) were improve existing facilities, trails, more options for teens, improved access to swimming, special event spaces, implement Waterfront Master Plan, and address duplication of services. Other stakeholders (not specifically identified) offered these priority needs: improve existing facilities, special event spaces, Waterfront improvements/redevelopment, and better/full-sized swimming pool.
For over one month in early 2015, a seventeen-question survey was available for public participation. Questions on the survey included facility use, facility maintenance, desired improvements, importance of facilities, and knowledge/awareness of facilities and programs. Over six hundred people, with two-thirds of the respondents from the City, participated. The summary of their responses included: improve maintenance and design standards, provide facilities to meet current needs, improve connectivity, improve communications, and create a “first-class” parks and recreation system.
It is obvious that significant resources, efforts, and thought contributed to the development of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan 2015. Since then, little effort has been made to recognize and implement the recommendations that were soundly founded in citizen comments and Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee endorsement, and City Commission adoption.
In fact, the community has done more in direct contradiction of the recommendations than in support of the identified priorities. Although work is expected to begin shortly on the Amelia River waterfront, it has been an arduous effort to “redevelop [the area] as a pedestrian-oriented gathering/festival space.” Parking is recommended to be removed from the waterfront and relocated elsewhere on the edge of the historic district.
Additionally, the document highlights Central Park “as the City’s central gathering space, as established in the town’s original plat.” Ballfields should be re-located: “a lighted sports complex is not an appropriate use for the City’s central urban park; outdoor fences, lights, buildings, parking, and noise are not compatible with adjacent residential areas.” Despite that specific language, the City continues to desire and promote expansion and expensive amenities in Central Park.
The current Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee has recognized many of the shortcomings, contradictions, and failures of the 2015 plan. A nominal effort to address some of the inconsistencies was attempted among the Committee members, but with limited public participation, that effort undercut the broad public support for the original plan. It is imperative to understand what City residents desire (Nassau County officials are embarking on their own parks and recreation planning effort which apparently provides minimal support to Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island parks and recreation). A renewed effort to re-envision City parks and recreation will likely begin shortly: an “Assessment and Action Plan.”
I hope that when this new effort begins, many of you will make your desires and concerns known. It is through those comments that the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and the City Commission can implement the wishes of the community.