By Mike Lednovich
The Port of Fernandina took the first step Wednesday toward potentially selling three parcels of non-industrial land outside the port’s footprint — but how the district should use any proceeds of well over $1 million from the sale was highly debated.
The Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) approved issuing a request for proposal (RFP) from real estate brokers to first place a valuation on the three properties and then handle the sale of the land.
Port Director David Kaufman identified the lots as:
.29 acres on the northeast corner of Third and Dade and zoned R-2 medium density.
.32 acres on the southeast corner of Third and Dade and zoned R-2 medium density.
About one-third of an acre on Third near Escambia and zoned MU-1mixed-usee.
There are a combined total of 15 buildable lots on the three properties.
“We aren’t residential property developers so we need someone that has that skill,” Kaufman said.
The property cannot be used by the port because of an inter-local agreement with the city of Fernandina Beach that precludes the port from expanding beyond its current geographic footprint into the Historic Downtown. The sale of the land is also part of the port’s recently adapted Master Plan.
When asked about the potential value of the land, Kaufman said he could not provide an accurate valuation but is “in excess of $1 million.”
The potential proceeds from selling the land became part of the discussion of the port’s financial problems caused by more than $250,000 of legal fees as a result of two ongoing lawsuits by the Nassau County Property Appraiser and the city of Fernandina Beach. Currently, the port has $140,000 in legal fees that are unpaid and are double the amount budgeted.
Accountant Pierre LaPorte told OHPA commissioners that they were at “the cliff’s edge” and the mounting legal fees were unsustainable. LaPorte said as a result of the legal expenses, OHPA could face having to eliminate the port director position.
“We don’t want to sell land to pay legal fees. That would be a horrible decision I would think,” LaPorte said. “I don’t see any near-term revenue opportunities. The legal spending has been an issue for a year and a half at least … we’re running out of money.”
Commissioner Ray Nelson disagreed and said the legal debt must be resolved.
“Some people would say it’s not good to sell property and use that money for expenses. I say it is good because we have an obligation to pay for what we get. Let’s do what’s necessary,” Nelson said. “It’s hard to sit here and say we have to make some tough decisions, but it’s the right thing to do. You couldn’t run your household budget the way we’re running this one. We’d all be homeless.”
Commissioner Miriam Hill said OHPA had “kicked the can a bit (in addressing) our lack of revenue.”
Hill asked the port director and accountant to present a plan for potential revenue opportunities at the next OHPA meeting.
“Given our current financial situation, it’s troubling where we are,” said Commissioner Justin Taylor. “If you’re in trouble like we are, you make cuts where necessary and look at revenue opportunities where we can.”
Finding new revenue opportunities is a task not limited to the port director according to Chairman Danny Fullwood.
“It’s also up to us to come up with other revenue opportunities. We’re responsible for that too,” Fullwood said.
Nelson said OHPA was at the point where “Let’s make the decisions and let’s move forward.”