Commentary: Some Hard Truths About Parking Lot A

By Chip Ross

Recently Amelia River Cruises emailed me concerning an action taken at the April 4 city commission meeting. The email may be misleading. With that in mind, let me respond.

The email stated, “the Fernandina Beach City Commission voted 4 to 1 in favor of removing 25 additional parking spaces from Parking Lot A.” Additionally, the email stated that “nine spaces were recently removed during recent parking lot “improvements,” and “parking at the foot of Centre Street is essential for our aging population and those with limited mobility.” The email focuses on the removal of 25 additional parking spaces from Parking Lot A. “This will place a burden on those who want to shop, dine, and enjoy other activity in the historic district.”

More than 15 years ago, the city commission adopted design guidelines for this area that said, “This is an important public space north of the visual corridor of Centre Street. There should be a drop-off zone that also functions as a gathering space during seasonal events. Landscaping, lighting and surface treatments should establish a pedestrian-oriented space.”

That was sound advice then and now.

Parking Lot A occupies the area just north of Brett’s restaurant. The city owns the land and maintains the area for the benefit of ALL citizens. The city taxpayers are the sole source for funding maintenance and any future improvements of this area. Fuel tanks for the marina fuel service are under the parking lot.

The space now has the following: a veteran’s memorial; a turnaround at the end of Centre Street; sidewalks; an unloading zone for vehicles delivering to Brett’s, the marina (including Amelia River Cruises) and permanent and transient slip holders. The space also has a waiting area for Amelia River Cruises and the boat that ferries passengers to Cumberland Island; the dumpsters for the Salty Pelican and Brett’s; sewage pump-out facilities used by Amelia River Cruises and others; an access area for the fuel tanks to be filled and serviced; and the space for electrical transformers servicing the Marina, Brett’s and Amelia River Cruises operations.

Currently, there is no shaded space for the public to gather and no space for shaded benches. There are no trees and limited green space.  “Free” parking is paid for by city taxpayers’ property taxes.

The removal of the nine parking spaces mentioned in the email was to provide a safe unloading zone for service and fuel trucks and to provide a space for the electrical transformers needed to underground the electrical service to Brett’s restaurant, Amelia River Cruises, and others.

The railroad’s conditions for agreeing to allow the city to open the Alachua Street railroad crossing necessitated these changes.

The commission-adopted plan does decrease the parking count by an additional 13 spaces to accommodate a larger unloading/drop-off zone for vehicles carrying passengers and marina supplies — and a public plaza and open space with shade trees and park benches. These are often requested amenities. The plan retains the Amelia River Cruise’s ticket kiosk.

To replace the lost parking spaces in Parking Lot A, the city commissioners adopted a plan that adds more than 40 additional parking spaces east of the railroad tracks, including 20 spaces added to the lot between City Hall and the railroad tracks. This provides a net GAIN in downtown parking.

One way of improving accessibility to “one-third of our guests who cannot walk further than one block” would be to designate a major portion of Parking Lot A for the mobility impaired.

Currently, it appears that Parking Lot A is substantially filled by 10 a.m. with cars of the employees and owners of the surrounding businesses (including Amelia  River Cruises).

Finally, the larger challenge:

We need to counteract the decades-old practice of thinking about accessibility only in terms of parking spaces and roadways. More homes and businesses are being built downtown. The current businesses are growing and attracting more customers. Tourism continues to thrive with more than 750,000 overnight visitors per year. The county’s residential population over the bridge continues to surge and provides more than 1.5 million day visitors per year to the island.

The city does not require any of the businesses downtown to provide parking either for their customers or employees. Almost all of the downtown businesses rely on the city to provide taxpayer-subsidized parking for their customers and employees.

There is not enough land on the waterfront and central business district to provide convenient parking. To accommodate growth, future strategies need to focus on providing safe pedestrian and bicycle access — supplemented by convenient shuttle parking from the periphery of downtown.

Building a parking garage would cost anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 per space depending on the soil characteristics and other factors and more than a million dollars per acre to acquire the land – or in excess of $6 million for a 100-space garage. The city does not have the money to fund a parking garage nor the land to build it without enacting downtown paid parking.

Limited waterfront land should be used for amenities for ALL segments of the public to enjoy. With Nassau County’s present growth rate, providing safe, dependable, affordable access to all businesses and other amenities of the downtown and waterfront will be unattainable until satellite parking and public transportation are supported and funded by a coalition of city, county, state and private enterprise.

If you have further questions or concerns, I may be reached at [email protected].

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Diqna Herman
Diqna Herman (@guest_68314)
5 months ago

Thank you Commissioner Ross for your thorough and clear reasoning. The rate of growth in the county is off the charts–and it seems we are always reactive instead of being proactive. Our City/County Commissioners need to plan before approving and adding more developments that compromise our island’s infrastructure and green space.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
5 months ago

Looks like they were prepping the site yesterday between the City Hall lot and the tracks. 20 looks about right, but it will be fairly close to the trains! Will a fence go up there also?

Chris subleski
Chris subleski(@oldtimehockey)
5 months ago

Pay for parking along the waterfront. You’ll have available parking then.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
5 months ago

When Matthew decimated the marina it was the marina businesses – primarily the charters and cruises – who quickly asked for repairs so they could get back to business. In the parking debate, the loudest voices are these businesses again. They want no encumbrance on their businesses. In some ways it seems as though the city subsidizes them indirectly. Whether this is a good thing, or not, is in the eye of the beholder. There are multiple constituents that need to be considered and to balance. Not sure FB taxpayers owe these businesses anything more. 

Just “putting it out there”.

Al MacDougall
Al MacDougall (@guest_68332)
5 months ago

The river waterfront should be de-cluttered and returned to a more natural/nautical ambiance suitable to Fernandina heritage.

City-owned parking in this area and along Centre Street should require a fee payment–which funds are earmarked for needed downtown improvements. This will reduce reliance on property taxes which will benefit all.

Debbra Sullivan
Debbra Sullivan(@debbrasullivanaol-com)
5 months ago

Thanks for the thorough summary of current parking issues.

Velda Wells
Velda Wells(@well4786bellsouth-net)
5 months ago

As an “only” 5 year resident of this community that lives over the bridge, just off Barnwell ,I have been extremely disappointed in the access to the Historic District we all love. I moved here from Atlanta Beach, Florida so I am not ignorant of the issues with too much growth in one small area, that is why I left Atlantic Beach. 

According to your commentary you appear to state that you think all is well with parking. I can assure you it is not. When I moved her 5 years ago I frequently enjoyed the historic district and their restaurants. I just don’t even bother anymore. Parking is a huge problem and every time you take away or move it further away from the waterfront you are only catering to the young and the tourist population. 

I realize there are compromises and I can only hope that the businesses you are supporting can be sustained with little or no parking in that area. It’s a shame that we have grown so fast and planning for parking or alternatives was and remains so very poor.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
5 months ago
Reply to  Velda Wells

Velda, I don’t think Chip stated all was well with the parking, but detailed some of the issues associated with trying to provide additional parking in a city that is 90+% developed. Although no longer a resident, we are frequent visitors and always come down to the historic district for dining, shopping and the sights. Sure, sometimes we can’t get a space on Centre Street or we have to drive around Ash or Alachua to find a spot, but we ALWAYS are able to find a spot even on weekends within a block or two of Centre Street. In our 70s we aren’t the mobile of folks, but we make it around the shops and all with no problem. The exercise with do you good, but if you are happy with the “ambience” of the shops in the Yulee shopping center, good for you.

Ashley (@guest_68507)
5 months ago
Reply to  Velda Wells

Velda, I am so glad you enjoy our downtown! Perhaps you can request that your county commissioners allocate county property tax dollars to help build a parking garage for Nassau county tax payers when visiting our city. It would greatly help alleviate your parking situation.

Sandra Lerch
Sandra Lerch (@guest_68359)
5 months ago

And who benefits for all this parking? My taxes are paying for this and what am I getting for this? NOTHING… It is of no benefit to me. I am paying for the business to make more money. They do not even give me a discount when I go into their stores. They are indignant. I have in the past brought my visitors downtown, no more. You do nothing for me, except cost me tax payers dollars. The Shrimp festival is a mess. Tourists racing up and down my street. Most drunk. Throwing trash out their windows, which I have to pick up. The school parking lot used for transportation, racing up and down my street. The police are nowhere. No policing the area. A drive by does not stop the speeding. The locals talk about this all the time and know you are not doing anything to clean up this matter. You are ruining the city. Again, it is a mess.

Dena (@guest_68371)
5 months ago
Reply to  Sandra Lerch

Seriously? Can you imagine if every downtown business gave discounts to everyone that walked in their store? You sound pretty selfish! A community is supposed to support its local businesses not question what’s in it for them!

Sandra Lerch
Sandra Lerch (@guest_68380)
5 months ago
Reply to  Dena

I’m not everyone. I LIVE here. It’s not selfish to want a discount. You need to live someplace else. Businesses in other places give their locals a discount for bringing their relatives and friends to their stores. They pay full price. It is not mandatory for locals to support these business. They do NOTHING for me. I guess you own a business and just thinking about the money you make. Do you even live in the city and pay taxes in the city? I have tried to support local businesses, they give the worst service and do the worst work.

Ashley (@guest_68509)
5 months ago
Reply to  Sandra Lerch

Sandra the businesses pay taxes to the city just like you and I. Without the businesses, our downtown would fall into disrepair. I’m glad we have thriving businesses in our town, I’m even thankful for some of the largest tax payers in our city, the port, the mills, etc. They provide jobs for locals (we are not all retirees as you know) and the shops and restaurants give us a lot of different options to dine, play and shop. Many of the owners and workers are our neighbors and friends. So while I do not agree with your sentiment, I do think we are not obligated to fullfil all of their parking needs. A business would have been wise to offer auxiliary parking (if they need lots of spots) and offer a shuttle to the location.

Thompson (@guest_68370)
5 months ago

It’s been said many times….we don’t have a parking problem, we have a walking problem. There are spaces all over downtown for the handicapped. The rest of us could use a bit of exercise!

Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_68410)
5 months ago

I have read this a couple of times and still confused on the number of spots that Lot A has been or about to be reduced by.

There are the 25 spots the Commissioners just voted on. There are the 9 spots that were removed previosly. I get it!

But what are and where are the “The commission-adopted plan does decrease the parking count by an additional 13 spaces to accommodate a larger unloading/drop-off zone for vehicles carrying passengers and marina supplies”?

Are the additional “13” included in the 25 spots or are they removing 38 spots (25 +13)?

Does this mean that in addition to the 9 that were already removed, Lot A will have lost a total of 47 spots?

chip ross
chip ross (@guest_68422)
5 months ago

Prior to any construction there were 53 parking spaces in Parking Lot A including handicapped spaces.

The railroad construction mandating a loading zone for the fuel trucks and restaurant delivers, removed 8 spaces. New electrical transformers and sidewalks will eliminate another 4 spaces. Currently there are  41 spaces.

The plan proposed the replacement of 13 spaces with pedestrian plaza, shade trees and park benches.

That would leave 30 spaces with a loss of 23 spaces. Concomitantly more than 30 spaces are to be created on the east side of the railroad tracks. I hope that helps. 

Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_68426)
5 months ago
Reply to  chip ross

sorry my accountant brain will not let this go…. 41-13= 28. What do I not get? I just think both proponents and opponents are using fuzzy math.

Tony Crawford
Tony Crawford (@guest_68562)
5 months ago
Reply to  chip ross

Chip, Like everything the commission does or doesn’t do, not everyone will not agree. That is just a given. Personally at this point after hearing for 25 years about the waterfront, any step in the right direction is a milestone. The waterfront is basically nothing more than an unsightly dump. ANYTHING to improve it will be a step in the right direction.