City of Fernandina Beach Senior Planner Kelly Gibson, A profile

 Submitted by Deborah Lavery PowersKelly Cropped

It is possible to grow up with government service in your blood?  If so, Kelly Gibson did.  She comes from a family where civil service, volunteering in the community and spending time improving the fabric of one’s community were a central core of who they were.  And still are.  So, when it came time for Kelly to choose whether she would follow the public or private route in her chosen field, she didn’t hesitate.  Government service was it.

Kelly is now a Senior Planner with the City of Fernandina Beach.  Her job is first and foremost one of serving the community.  But, what does her serving our community really mean to you and me as citizens?

Let’s pretend that you have just purchased a vacant lot here in town. And you have a vision of the home you want to build on that land. From the moment you start trying to figure out how to go forward to make that dream come true Kelly or one of her fellow planners is there to assist you. She will be talking with you, your architect, your builder, and anyone else involved in your project. ” A lot!”   She is there to answer questions, solve problems, and be sure that your dream fits within the bounds of what is possible within our City.

But what guides Kelly when she is working on your project?  First, Federal and State Law, then County and City ordinances — followed by three important City documents which she has to know inside out in order to work your project. Collectively, the City documents provide a blueprint for long term growth of the City and a strategy to help us get there. (More about those documents another day.)

Kelly is also guided by what she learned before she ever came to town. That  Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at Florida State University, followed by the Master’s Program in Urban Planning focusing on Growth Management and Comprehensive Planning  — those were Kelly’s educational starting points on her road to Fernandina Beach. While completing her studies she broadened her knowledge and honed her planning skills through jobs and volunteer positions with the public and private sector as well as non-profit organizations.  All before  donning her last cap and gown.    Following gradation, she worked with a major transportation planning firm.  Then she came to town.  And started serving our community.  Over five years ago.

Kelly writes a staff report for each planning application that comes to her — recommending approval, denial, or suggesting changes that would provide our City with quality development. Those recommendations are presented to both the City’s Planning Advisory Board and the City Commission. She works with current facts, and calls on her background and knowledge in Federal, State, County and City laws/ordinances/plans/codes when writing the reports. Following any public processes, Kelly continues to follow the project through site plan review, permitting, and inspections. Best said,  Kelly spends an enormous number of hours ensuring that citizens receive professional assistance “from start to finish.” 

Woven into each day’s work are other responsibilities – making  Kelly’s job an especially fascinating one for her,  “Helping citizens find solutions that turn their dreams into reality is the most rewarding aspect of my job,” says Kelly.

Other responsibilities include providing professional coordination and technical support to three of our City’s boards/committees and the City Commission. Her work involves attending meetings, and offering explanations or clarifications. Most of these groups meet in the evening hours.   “Attending community meetings and gathering public input is just one aspect of my job,  and yes, it can involve many late evenings but, it’s these meetings which help to create meaningful policies that meet the City’s needs and long-term goals,” says Kelly.

The City and its Planning Team were recognized for their efforts in late 2011 when it received a Regional Leadership Award for Excellence in Planning and Growth Management.  The 2030 Comprehensive Plan was praised for its “thoughtful approach and use of sound principles and strategies appropriate for an environmentally sensitive urban coastal community.”

My daughter-in-law calls Kelly “the tree lady” in honor of her job managing the City’s tree inventory. We have some 7000+ trees in the City and Kelly monitors their maintenance/removal activity and is working on replacement strategies so we retain and improve our existing canopy for future generations. As you drive around town, you will see that new trees have recently been planted in several places:  the downtown waterfront, the Hickory Street Park,  the Atlantic Recreation Center and the Bosque Bello Cemetery. Another aspect of this task is keeping up with our Tree City designation through annual reporting requirements to the State Forestry office.  Fernandina Beach has held a Tree City designation for 11 consecutive years.

Kelly is also working to create a future transportation strategy (called a “Mobility Plan”), which will consider all modes of transportation: cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, buses/ trolleys, alternate fuel vehicles, etc. Over the last several months Kelly worked with citizens and employees to update the City’s “Bicycle Friendly Community” application. This spring she hopes the City will receive a designation status of either bronze or silver (an upgrade from “honorable mention”).

Maintaining our digital mapping system, known as our Geographic Information System (GIS) is another aspect part of Kelly’s  job.  See the two pictures below: one of an early Future Land Use Map that the City created in 1995 — filled in using highlighters and magic markers.    The second is a recent zoning map Kelly created digitally. No magic markers involved here!  And thankfully so, according to Kelly, because “I’ve never been very good at coloring inside the lines.”    She adds, “Did you know that you can find all sorts of useful information about our City and zoom right into properties to view data by going to ”

And then, of course, there are always “other duties as assigned.” This, at times, has included coordination on larger special events which involve permitting or project management for long-term City projects. She also maintains the Community Development Department and sanitation webpages, writes press releases, develops flyers for our annual recycling events, and most recently she coordinated our Bike Fernandina Expo (held in October).

There is no doubt that Kelly’s position with the City is, as she says,  “both a challenging and varied one”  and  she remains, as always, to be “enthusiastic about the opportunity to serve our wonderful community to the absolute best of my ability.”

Kelley 4
Future Land Use Map completed with magic markers


Kelly 3
Recent zoning map created digitally

Editor’s Note: After a career in adult education, where writing, course design and development were her “beat”, Deborah is now enjoying the world of freelancing. And volunteering. We thank Deborah  for her contributions.

January 29, 2013 5:36 p.m.


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Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_3542)
11 years ago

Nice profile on a very dedicated City Employee.

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_3543)
11 years ago

Very nice profile on a very dedicated City Employee.

Jen Gibson
Jen Gibson (@guest_3595)
11 years ago

Kelly is a great city planner!

Doug Jones
Doug Jones (@guest_5800)
11 years ago

Kelly is the the kind of staff I would have given my eye teeth for when I ran that Department 1998-2001. Now to get her, the Planning Dept and City Mgr excited about properly resolving and restoring the Red Maple kill off by FDOT in the Greenway.