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].