signSubmitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
September 3, 2015 2:12 p.m.

The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) met in workshop session on September 2, 2015, to discuss one item: beach access rights-of-way (ROWs). The intent was that the FBCC would review and discuss staff’s recommendation concerning future requests for encroachments or use of public ROWs at beach accesses.

This issue arose following public outcry over the city manager’s exercising authority given to him under city code to allow a private property owner to landscape the adjoining city property designated as Beach Access 33, thereby creating the impression that the landscaped city property was part of his property. City Manager Joe Gerrity acknowledged after the fact that his decision to grant permission was a mistake.

Baxter Hayes, the private property owner, has agreed to build at his own expense a handicapped beach access at Beach Access 33 where before there was no access at all as a goodwill gesture to the community.

Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary
Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary

Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary presented the FBCC with an option to make sure that such a mistake could not be made in the future. He suggested that the authority to make decisions regarding beach access or beach parking encroachments be transferred from the City Manager to the FBCC, thereby insuring full public participation going forward in any request to encroach city property in these specific locations. Commissioners seemed receptive to this idea at the beginning of the meeting.

City Manager Joe Gerrity also expressed his support for the recommendation. Gerrity also asked for and received permission from the FBCC to proceed to negotiate with Baxter Hayes on constructing the handicapped accessible beach access at Beach Access 33. He agreed to bring back drawings to the FBCC for their consideration.

What could have been a relatively short meeting, focused on the advertised agenda item, morphed into a wide-ranging discussion spearheaded by local environmental activists to cover beach problems, as they defined them. Part of the confusion resulted from a call at an earlier meeting for a workshop to discuss beach issues, of which Beach Access 33 was only one.

Before opening public comment, Mayor Ed Boner advised the audience that generally workshops are an opportunity for commissioners to discuss issues among themselves. Eleven speakers, some of whom spoke more than once, brought up topics such as providing more parking at beach accesses, revising code language to mirror state and federal laws, getting more money from the Tourist Development Council (TDC) to maintain beaches, improve code enforcement to stop individuals and businesses from “claiming” parts of the beach, the unsightly dumpster at Main Beach, opening abandoned streets along the beach to provide additional beach parking… and more.

  • Joan Bean said that beach accesses were to Fernandina Beach what the oaks were to the MacArthur property in the county. She asked that changes regarding beach access encroachments be made retroactive to reverse the decision made to allow heavy landscaping at Beach Access 33.
  • Kevin Leary reminded commissioners that visitors come to Fernandina for the beach. In addition to Beach Access 33, he cited a grove of trees blocking Beach Access 22.
  • City Commission Candidate Roy Smith
    City Commission Candidate Roy Smith

    City Commission Candidate Roy Smith asked the city to consider working with FDOT to provide parallel parking along certain stretches of South Fletcher Avenue. In response to McCrary’s suggestion to amend city code with respect to granting variances or permits to encroach beach accesses, he said, “I don’t think anyone should be able to encroach beach accesses. They belong to the people of Fernandina Beach.”

  • City Commission Candidate Clinch Kavanaugh
    City Commission Candidate Clinch Kavanaugh

    City Commission Candidate Clinch Kavanaugh suggested language changes to existing code to remove ambiguity and therefore avoid lawsuits against the city. He said that definitions in city code should mirror those of the state to minimize areas for dispute. Later in the meeting Chip Ross, a member of the city’s Planning Advisory Board (PAB), advised that the PAB was reviewing all definitions to do just that. Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary reaffirmed that was the city’s intent as well.

  • Eric Hatton suggested that before the city look into buying more land for beach parking it first looks at land it already owns. He spoke about dead-ended streets that run to the beach. He also suggested that an abandoned portion of Ocklawaha Avenue presents an opportunity for parking.
  • City Commission Candidate Jennifer Schriver
    City Commission Candidate Jennifer Schriver

    City Commission Candidate Jennifer Schriver suggested that the cost of building additional beach parking could be reduced by not using concrete, which is non-porous and adds to stormwater problems.

Vice Mayor Johnny Miller, who appeared to have wrested control of the meeting away from Mayor Ed Boner at times, deferred to Commissioner Tim Poynter, who had to leave after an hour due to a previous commitment.

Poynter thanked everyone for coming and said, “As I have said many times lately, you have to look at your own city government. When people are talking about ‘we can’t spend any more money,’ maybe we need to talk a bit more about spending money more wisely, and if there is something that makes sense, go ahead to spend money to do it. At budget time we hear, ‘Don’t raise any rates,’ ‘Don’t raise our taxes;’ ‘Don’t spend any money.’ Then the rest of the year we hear ‘we need to do this, we need to spend this, we need to do that.’ Well, it just doesn’t work that way.”

timPoynter went on, “We can’t just keep saying no, no, no to raising property taxes and [saying] we don’t need to spend any money and then the rest of the year we talk about everything we should have done, should have bought, and should have pursued, but we don’t have the money. At some point we should look at each other and say: what’s the best for the community, not just today but 10 or 20 years from now? So when properties come up for sale and projects are proposed, we don’t say, ‘Not today, we don’t have the money.’ This was a reference to the private property at Beach Access 33 that had been for sale but which the city declined to purchase for parking.

Poynter used as an example a piece of property along the Amelia Riverfront, which if the city purchased, would allow it to flip the city marina to the north and save $300-400K every two years in dredging expenses. “Maybe it makes sense to spend the money now to avoid that ongoing expense,” he said. “We can apply those same thoughts to other areas of the city. It is really up to the citizens and this commission to get our act together to start looking to the future, not at the expense of today.”

The audience reacted to Poynter’s remarks with a round of applause.

Michael Leary
Michael Leary

Following Poynter’s departure much of the discussion surrounded a slide presentation prepared and delivered by local beach advocate Michael Leary. Leary’s slides were not limited to city beach, but also covered county beach areas. He and his brother Kevin singled out local businesses that appear to reserve parts of the beach for their own customers. Michael Leary also called attention to existing beach access parking areas that did not meet today’s width standards. He claimed that beach accesses are useless unless there is also parking available. He suggested that the city get additional funding from the TDC for that purpose.

Kevin Leary
Kevin Leary

Miller proceeded to go through his list of items identified by speakers, even as Mayor Ed Boner tried to get both commissioners and the audience to focus on the specific purpose of the meeting. He commended speakers for bringing up important points, seeking clarification from staff on legal and code enforcement matters. Gerrity said that city staff is striving through code enforcement to allow no more encroachments into city ROWs.

millerMiller asked, to a round of applause, “Why are we discussing how we can hear requests to encroach beach accesses rather than just saying there will be no encroachments to beach accesses?” A discussion ensued with respect to various types of encroachment, which could range from boulders to tree overhangs.

Miller seemed especially intrigued with the idea of using “unopened” streets as parking areas. He asked about the Ocklawaha example cited by an earlier speaker.

“Let’s put a parking lot there. Can we put a parking lot there?” he asked.

Streets Supervisor Rex Lester in response to a question estimated that it would cost about $200K to build a parking lot in the area in question that runs between First Avenue and South Fletcher. Lester added that the city could make that a paved street with angled parking.

Miller said, “I would like to direct city staff to find $200K to put in beach access parking there. Take the trees out.”

Gerrity reacted with surprise, “Take the trees out?” Miller is a strong tree advocate.

Boner suggested that a better move would be to put this project in the capital improvement plan for consideration going forward.

“Let’s figure out how to do this,” Miller said, “and yes I know there are trees there. I like trees. Trees are important.” He launched into additional comments on the importance of trees. Lentz chimed in directing her comment at Miller, “Except for when we want to tear them down to make parking lots.”

Later in the meeting Miller realized that his comments about tree removal might be misconstrued. Miller said, “For some reason out of this meeting I think there will be one big issue taken out of this meeting: Commissioner Miller wants to tear down trees and build a parking lot. … Any time we do anything like that we should form a committee and work with the Tree Conservatory [sic] and have them in the process, just like the PAB … and try to save as many trees as possible. We can still put in a parking lot and save trees.”

lentzLentz expressed her concerns over points raised by the Leary brothers over people taking up portions of the beach with chairs and umbrellas over long periods of time. She said that while she agreed that such beach furniture and shelters should not be allowed to stay up overnight, she felt that people who make this a destination should be allowed to occupy space during the day, even if they left briefly with an intent to return. Kevin Leary countered that his concern was more with those who were making money off the beach, citing Pipe Line Surf Shop and Elizabeth Pointe Lodge.

pat

Commissioner Pat Gass expressed her opinion that perception becomes reality. When beach accesses are landscaped or businesses put up signs on the beach, the perception is that the areas are off limits to the public. She suggested that at sometime in the future the FBCC look at examining the issue more closely. “When is enough enough?” she asked.

The discussion got so off topic at times that Marlene Chapman, a citizen who had been extremely concerned over issues specific to Beach Access 33, asked for clarification that something was actually being done to address that specific problem. Gerrity assured her it was.

Miller took it upon himself to summarize and direct staff, with no objection from other commissioners. He said that the city manager would not longer have the authority to encroach on the right of way access to the beach. Miller suggested that any encroachment that the FBCC might consider would not be able to impede access to the beach.

ed1An hour and 42 minutes into the discussion, Mayor Boner said, “I have a suggestion. Let’s ask the city attorney to watch this video and come up with language to include in a code revision incorporating these points.” Miller agreed. City Attorney Bach was not in attendance due to previously scheduled vacation.

McCrary suggested that language be written in such a way that the commissioners, not the code, will be responsible for deciding what type of encroachment may be permitted. He also added that the question arises only rarely. “You’re safer,” McCrary said, “in reviewing every request in a public setting.”

Boner gaveled the meeting closed at 6:42 p.m.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_43942)
7 years ago

Anarchy, everywhere. Not good.

Lynn Johns
Lynn Johns (@guest_43968)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

“…paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” Leave the trees

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_43944)
7 years ago

Robert, But it is Democracy, we just need to control it better. Sorry I missed it, I guess I have to wait for Dave Scotts next Blog to find out just how far off the rails it went. He’s always so “fair and balanced”

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_43946)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Sorry, Steve, but I’ve taken a short break and won’t be blogging again until Sept. 18. But then and there after I promise to be “fair and balanced” as well as fairly unbalanced using a sharp stick.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_43948)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Damn it !

Benjamin Morrison
Benjamin Morrison (@guest_43950)
7 years ago

While the concept of developing unimproved city ROW’s such as the one which is apparently west of Beach Access #33 is a great concept, and certainly worth looking into further, this particular example of possibly building a parking lot that would place pedestrians in a situation where they have to cross South Fletcher Avenue without even a crosswalk is just a tragedy waiting to happen.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman (@guest_43953)
7 years ago

I was at the meeting last evening and while things may have gotten heated a bit, I can’t agree that it “went rogue”. The people who were there are passionate about our beaches and access to them! While this particular meeting was to have been about access #33 , it was hard for us to escape the fact that other beach issues are also important and urgent matters that need to be addressed. There was discussion about the verbage of what is to be allowed or not on beach accesses and that made the pot boil over! To most of us it should be no intrusion on beach accesses period! Little by little people and businesses are “claiming” there stake on the beach with “No Trespassing ” and “Private Property ” signs….that must come to an end. When the homeowner was allowed to landscape access #33 , that too frosted the cake. We know that allowing this was an error, or mistake or just a decision made too quickly on the part of our CM, and he has said if he had to do over it would have been different….that is water under the bridge. We now need to move on and not let anything like that happen again…..another thing we all agree on, well most of us agree. So, for those who were there at the meeting, thank you! For those of you who were not there, please get involved, speak your piece, save our island’s treasure and realize how lucky we are to live here!

Jennifer Schriver
Jennifer Schriver (@guest_43971)
7 years ago

Marlene, Thank you for posting this. I too was at the meeting and this headline is biased. In fact, it’s inaccurate.

If you look up the definition of the word rogue in the dictionary you find this:

1. a dishonest or unprincipled man:
synonyms: scoundrel · villain · miscreant · reprobate · rascal · [more]
2. an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies:

After reviewing this definition, I found neither definition applicable to the workshop. In fact, I found it to be just the opposite. It was not savage or destructive, instead productive and enlightening. I saw the community come together to identify solutions and a commission that was engaged.

The public input raised awareness to issues and solutions that appeared not even the commissioners were aware. I hope that future meetings will be met by a community full of participants who are solution driven in helping the commissioners do their job to the best of their abilities.

Mrs. D. Hunter
Mrs. D. Hunter (@guest_43989)
7 years ago

The idiom “to go rogue” simply means to go off script – which is exactly what the meeting’s evolving conversation did when it veered from the ONE published agenda item into other fields of parallel interest NOT specified on the agenda.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_44014)
7 years ago
Reply to  Mrs. D. Hunter

Agree completely in “going rogue” means an action goes outside the boundaries that were set or expected. As noted elsewhere, the focused scope of this workshop clearly was expanded by many of the speakers.

Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller (@guest_43954)
7 years ago

I’m not even sure where to even start to attempt to level the slant in this editorial. I would suggest the readers interested in the future of the access to our public beach and the issues that prompted workshop to actually watch these meetings.

To the members who took the time to share your very important input and information, Thank you. Please do not be discouraged by the constraints of formats that limit your time to speak or reports of going off topic. Your Commissioners need your input. Keep talking. That’s my understanding of how this is supposed to work.

And as for the trees… just in readers don’t have time to watch the meeting, I recommend removing the palm trees added to the right of way at access 33 a few months ago and placing them on the homeowner’s property. The parking lot across the street suggested by Mr. Hatton, that is currenty city property, that was not identified as possible parking by city staff when asked for all options even after he mentioned it. Yes, there is vegetation on that site. That is a road. That any one would see as overgrowth and not a maritime forest canopy if they took the time to actually go look at this location. If readers of this are truly intersted would like to dicuss the difference, stay tuned. I plan on more meetings. And as much public input and interaction as it takes.

As a suggestion, another benefit of viewing this meeting in it’s entirety would be viewing the photographs and commentary provided by Mr. Michael Leary. I had hoped there would have been room inbetween the commentary in this report for this vital portion. They prompted most of the discussion in this workshop. And what the conversation here should be about. Access to our beach.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_43956)
7 years ago

Parallel parking on South Fletcher has to be the worst idea in the history of this island. Number 1 thought – it’s a state road. Number 2 – bicycle paths. Number 3 – drivers who should not be on the roads trying to parallel park when they can’t drive forward. Number 4 – idiots crossing the road to get to the beach. This idea from a candidate???

Roy G. Smith
Roy G. Smith (@guest_43969)
7 years ago
Reply to  Bruce Smyk

I did point out to the Commission that Fletcher is a State road and they would need to contact the FDOT regarding parallel parking to see if it could be done and funded by the DOT. As a candidate I believe there is nothing wrong with proposing alternatives to resolve problems. I have lived in various beachfront towns that have parallel parking alongside a DOT road that runs along their beach. I would hope that all candidates for the Commission would offer possible solutions to all of the problems we have in the city. Commissioners need to look outside of the box for alternatives. Instead of saying just saying no to proposed solutions to problems, a good Commissioner should say what can we do to resolve them and then offer solutions.
Unlike you, I am not calling the people who cross this road everyday to get to the beach, idiots.

Benjamin Morrison
Benjamin Morrison (@guest_43958)
7 years ago

The thing that I find so ironic in many of the comments that I read on this subject is the number of citizens who still feel like the permits issued to Mr. Hayes, and the subsequent installation of landscape and irrigation, somehow is an example of people’s access to our beaches being revoked or altered.

This would be fundamentally impossible, as there was no access to the beach on that ROW to begin with.

Mr. Leary has every right to continue to spread fictitious claims regarding the construction of Mr. Hayes’ home, but this will have no impact on what the real story is here: a private homeowner taking the initiative to do something to improve the quality of life for residents of Fernandina Beach that our Elected Officials have not been able to accomplish on their own.

This story is about providing beach access, not taking it away.

Tom Dolan
Tom Dolan (@guest_43963)
7 years ago

Well said.. and many thanks to Mr Hayes.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_43966)
7 years ago

Yes, let us not forget that Mr. Hayes followed every rule in the book in getting a variance for his roof overhang to extend in the ROW and got the approval of the CM in the landscaping. And then for him to volunteer to provide the funds for the construction of a parking area and a beach access where none existed in the past; so to portray him as the bad guy in these events is just wrong.
That being said, the issues that have resulted have brought an awareness or probable change in procedures for the future that will mandate further scrutiny of such requests going forward.
As to pedestrians crossing S. Fletcher to get to the beach, I have done it and seen it done all the time from homeowners living across the street or a couple of blocks away walking over rather than driving over. If there is a concentrated crossover place, the City should work with FLDOT to get a marked pedestrian crosswalk designated as the Summer Beach residents did just north of Peter’s Point.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_43980)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Dave, The whole issue of access 33 started with a Bad decision by our City Manager to allow the encroachment of Mr Hay’s Construction. Allowing a person to install an in-ground sprinkler system, To allow sodding of the whole access,To allow a set-back change from 8ft to 6″ then to allow Mr. Hays to overhang the House eves by a foot, Allow the house utilities to be installed under the right of way and Plant Trees and Shrubs in the Right of way and position the signage so as to confuse. I thank Mr. Hays for the generous gift to the City of the walkover. Do you really think that was Mr. Hay’s plan,without the grassroots anger of the Bonehead decision to allow it in the first place?

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_44013)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Steve,
Impossible for me to know what one person’s original intent was although I can certainly see the perspective that many have. But let’s make a judgement on the final outcome in this particular situation and put in safeguards for the future to make sure such requests get a full public vetting before a final decision is made.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_44022)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Spoken like a true Gentleman Dave, But if it quacks, waddles, and looks like– Well you know the rest. peace

Sherry Carter Garbarini
Sherry Carter Garbarini (@guest_43972)
7 years ago

So much for having a news feed of unbiased reporting. Another one bites the dust.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_43974)
7 years ago

Sherry,
After having watched the replay of the workshop and comparing it to Suanne’s summary, where do you think there is bias? If your objection is to the use of the word “rogue”, the scope of the meeting was pretty well defined in the agenda and there were a lot of other issues raised that were outside that scope. As noted by Suanne, perhaps there was confusion that this workshop was called ONLY to address encroachment of beach access ROWs.

Larry Ogilvie
Larry Ogilvie (@guest_43973)
7 years ago

Answer to the parking problem with minimal expense, open the beach to more driving!

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_43977)
7 years ago
Reply to  Larry Ogilvie

Oh Larry, you had to go and open that can of worms!

Betty Benner
Betty Benner (@guest_43981)
7 years ago

Poor Mr. Hays. He’s probably ready to move. He’s done the right thing. Move on and leave him alone.
Public access to the beach – make the signs, clearly post them, and move on. Parallel parking on Fletcher poses the same safety issues as parallel parking anywhere – avoid it. Tourists (90% of them) will obey the rules. If they rent on the west side of Fletcher, crossing the street is a given. And how much public parking is really needed or do you really want? Talk to Tybee Island, GA about that can of worms.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_43988)
7 years ago
Reply to  Betty Benner

Right, pave it and they will come. In all but a couple of days of the year, there are vacant parking places at Main Beach and most of the smaller beach access.

Eric Hatton
Eric Hatton (@guest_44048)
7 years ago

Favoring enchroachment onto public property is essentially like letting someone else play “just the tip” with your significant other. We all know how that game ends..

Those of us that love Amelia are not going to stand by and let that happen. Those that favor this likely have their own agenda $$$ or personal motivation . Unfortunately Amelia will play just the tip, with anyone. It’s up to those that truly love her to protect her from those that would move here and their way with her..Essentially pimping her out for their own good. Maybe they don’t mind lending out their significant others for a game of just the tip with someone else.
Most of us do mind.
Amelia is not your prostitute .

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