By Mike Lednovich
Highly respected Amelia Island property broker John Hillman sent Ocean Highway and Port Authority Danny Fullwood a scathing email notice that he is stepping away as agent for the sale of port property immediately following a disjointed and at times heated discussion among commissioners over whether to sell the land and how the sale proceeds would be used.
Hillman was out of town on business and participated in last Wednesday’s OHPA meeting using his cellphone while watching the meeting live on YouTube.
“There was a lot of information and details I wanted to share with the OHPA commission but I never got a chance to speak,” Hillman told the Observer. “At one point I lost the connection. I called back Rosanna (the port administrator) but the meeting went on and I was never recognized.”
OHPA commissioners along with Port Attorney Patrick Krechowski and Port Accountant Pierre Laporte addressed the proposed listing agent agreement with Hillman’s firm Cabana Lane, but commissioners began debating the merits of how many of the three neighborhood properties adjacent to the port should be listed for sale and then turned to ponder how any profits from the sale of the land would be used.
Hillman, who estimates he has invested more then 100 hours of work on the port property proposal, said he became fully aware during the meeting that OHPA had not reached a position to actually begin the process of implementing a plan to sell and develop the land.
Hillman said his efforts on the project include three meetings with City of Fernandina Beach Planning and Conservation Director Kelly Gibson and Senior Planner Sal Cumella. The three port properties are located in the city’s historic district.
“I felt I had positive information to share with the (OHPA) group, but it would fall on deaf ears given the way the discussion was going,” Hillman said of the meeting. “The OHPA conversation was going round and round in a circle with no consensus. My intentions were to add clarity to the discussion, but I knew at that point it was futile to continue my efforts and I sent Fullwood (Chairman Danny Fullwood) an email notice of my withdrawal.”
In his email to Fullwood sent minutes after the OHPA meeting concluded, Hillman wrote:
“Your board is not ready to sell. You are not in agreement about what to do with the money. For those reasons and to protect my time and my company’s reputation from getting mired in the controversy this project is likely to find itself, I hereby withdraw for the last time from this effort. You have other ‘qualified’ candidates, and perhaps they will have more patience to deal with this. I’m sure this will only make some of the commissioners quite happy to have more confusion and delay entered into the equation, but enough is enough, and the only thing we have in life is time, and this is not the best use of my team’s time and capabilities.”
Fullwood said before the meeting that he was advised by the port attorney that Hillman should not speak during the meeting. Fullwood said he was not told why.
The OHPA chairman acknowledged that commissioners have been arguing over the details of the port property sale since last May.
“We have one commissioner who doesn’t want to sell any of the properties. Others want to sell just one and some favor selling two lots,” Fullwood said. “We’ve got to decide so we can move forward. I intend at the next meeting to vote on one particular lot to get us going.”
Port Attorney Krechowski was critical of the proposed Cabana Lane contract and told commissioners “There are things in this listing agreement that I would not recommend and I do not like for lack of a better term. This thing needs some work.”
Those comments startled Hillman when he heard them.
“Patrick (Krechowski) and I have had numerous conversations about elements in the proposed listing agreement. It’s based on a standard state listing form. Any concerns should have been worked out before presenting the contract to the OHPA commission,” Hillman said. “That’s another reason I just bailed out of this.”
Hillman was also frustrated that a detailed email he had sent Fullwood the morning of the OHPA meeting was not shared with other commissioners. The email informed Fullwood that “I had a 3rd meeting with city officials last week, and we made some great progress on what could be the most appropriate way to subdivide the homesites into the minimum 50′ lots as discussed previously. The images below will help illustrate some minor but important evolutions of the lot layout, which I believe only reinforces the neighborhood block patterns with all front porches facing 3rd Street, and it lessens the possible negative effect of idle trucks waiting to come into the port making the Parcel B properties more desirable. Finally, one of the more important discussion points I had with the city was the potential of creating a permanent greenspace/ park on the undeveloped Escambia Street that leads to the overlook of the port. This could be a permanent area for dog walking and a gathering space that would add to the greater public good. The city very much said it was possible and would support a process to make that a reality.”
Fullwood said he understands Hillman’s frustration with the OHPA process but said “there is fault on both sides” for the proposal being bogged down. “There were several issues with the listing contract that needed to be worked out, and our commissioners need to agree on what we intend to do,” Fullwood said.