Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
The Fernandina Beach Community Redevelopment Area Advisory Board (CRAAB) spent the better part of its hour and a half-long April 15, 2013 meeting trying to find consensus among its members on the purpose and priorities of the CRA.
Absent specific charges or input from the City Commissioners (FBCC), the CRAAB is pinning its hopes on advice from Carol Westmoreland of the Florida Redevelopment Association (Redevelopment.net). Westmoreland will conduct a CRA training session in Jacksonville on June 12. Kelly Gibson, the city’s senior planner who staffs the CRAAB, strongly encouraged members to attend this class. Westmoreland will travel to Fernandina Beach the following day to conduct a special workshop for the FBCC. This workshop will be open to the public; business and CRA property owners will be invited to attend.
The CRAAB by consensus is recommending that the FBCC postpone pending decisions (to extend the life of the CRA to 40 years and reset the base year) to the first FBCC meeting following the workshop.
CRAAB Chair Mike Zaffaroni asked committee members to share any information needs they had received from city commissioners. Member Andy Curtin said that he believed that Commissioner Ed Boner understands CRAs, and that Commissioners Sarah Pelican and Charlie Corbett were advancing on the learning curve. He expressed the opinion that the FBCC is “more than willing to proceed” with the CRA. Member Scott Moore said that he believes the commissioners need to have a better understanding of how the CRA financing mechanism will impact the general fund and services throughout the city. Chair Zaffaroni reminded members that the FBCC can sunset the CRA at any time, if they believe that either the work has been completed or that money in the Tax Increment Financing Fund (TIF) could be better spent elsewhere in the city.
Not all the CRAAB members seemed comfortable with the concept of encouraging business development in the CRA. Member Debra Stephenson characterized the problem as maintenance vs. growth and development. She appeared to look toward the CRA as a mechanism to eliminate blight, while not specifically working with potential developers to rehabilitate or bring in new business to the area. She asked, “How can you expand when you can’t maintain what you’ve got?” She suggested a need for specific requirements and prioritization, citing her two top priorities of safety and security.
Staffer Kelly Gibson said that projects under consideration must meet two guidelines: they must be covered in the CRA plan, and the property must be in the CRA. She added that via collective partnerships adjacent properties would also benefit.
Member Lou Goldman asked if the city had acknowledged or responded to an email from Dick Goodsell, a potential CRA developer. Gibson replied that the last formal contact with Goodsell had been in 2012, when the city engineer had responded to questions regarding water and sewer for Goodsell’s proposed development on North Second Street. Goldman characterized the city’s current lack of response to Goodsell as “inconsiderate.” The CRAAB moved to recommend to the FBCC that they politely ask the City Manager to respond to Goodsell’s email. The motion passed with Member Curtin dissenting on a matter of form. The CRAAB then passed a second motion asking Gibson to please ask the City Manager to respond to or acknowledge Goodsell’s email. That motion passed unanimously. Both motions were left to stand.
An apparently frustrated Chair Zaffaroni asked for Board discussion on the reasons for the negative attitude among some in the community toward the CRA. Some of the points raised included:
“”Lock the door” concept: keep things as they are or as they were in the 1980’s or 1950’s;
City’s poor reputation for getting things done;
Lack of maintenance on city property;
Eminent domain fears;
Financial problems with both the marina and the golf course;
Robbing from other parts of the city to support CRA development;
C City is getting too big;
How will CRA projects be paid for?
Commissioner Arlene Filkoff, an ex officio member of the CRAAB, said that the Forward Fernandina loan ($1.8M) would have enabled the city to take care of projects within the CRA like the rail crossings and creating a quiet zone that would benefit both new and existing businesses. That loan was never intended to finance the waterfront park. However, the hope was that by taking care of infrastructure concerns, the city would encourage redevelopment so that a park could be paid for with private money.
Both members Curtin and Stephenson continued to express reservations about infrastructure work to be paid for by the city when it would support only one CRA project. Member Goldman explained that the purpose of the CRA is redevelopment. He suggested that if the FBCC does not want redevelopment in the area then there is no reason for the CRAAB to exist.
Chair Zaffaroni suggested that such discussion be put off for now and that meetings between now and the June 13 workshop will be called only if there is business to conduct.
He adjourned the meeting at 4:45 p.m., reminding CRAAB members to concentrate on building a “better Fernandina Beach tomorrow than we have today.”
April 16, 2013 1:45 p.m.