Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 9, 2015 11:17 a.m.
Toward the end of the July 7, 2015 Fernandina Beach City Commission Regular Meeting, Commissioner Robin Lentz once again raised what she perceived as a need to move ahead on the first phase (Parking Lot B) of the Amelia Riverfront Park plan.
Lentz presented her research into all the discussions that have occurred about a waterfront park among all the various city committees over the past years since 2002. She demonstrated how all the committees had recommended moving forward, but that although certain preliminary actions have occurred, ground has not been broken to date on the actual park. She cited an earlier motion by Commissioner Pat Gass and then-Commissioner Charlie Corbett to move forward with the park.
Lentz said that from her perspective there are two options to handle the loss of parking spaces, which seems to be the issue bogging down progress. She said that in light of the new city parking lot on Broome Street and associated improvement of street parking, the city could write off the 12 lost spaces, saying that they were more than compensated for by the 30 new spaces, albeit a bit further from the current Parking Lot B location. The other option, she maintained, was to resurrect the idea advanced by local architect Randy Rice to convert the underutilized lot, which is part park and part unofficial parking lot across Second Street from City Hall to a parking lot (Parking Lot E), which would contain 50 plus spaces, including ADA spaces. The greenspace lost in converting that block to a parking lot would be offset by new greenspace added to the waterfront park, she said.
At the urging of Commissioner Tim Poynter, Lentz made a motion to move ahead on the Parking Lot B portion of the waterfront park plan. Vice Mayor Johnny Miller seconded the motion. Miller said that the reason he did not second Lentz’s motion at the previous meeting was that loss of parking spaces always seemed to be a negative factor in making progress. Miller said that he would like to see the entire park done, but that this first phase (Parking Lot B) can be paid for now, meeting the “pay as you go” approach to project funding. City Manager Joe Gerrity affirmed that funding for this phase is in the current year budget.
Four members of the public spoke to this issue. Roy Smith, candidate for Group 4 City Commission, asked about the railroad’s restrictions for development near the tracks. Gerrity said that the railroad requires a clearance of 18-25 feet from the tracks. Smith said that current plans call for a fence and landscaping that would fall within the 18 feet range. Gerrity said that once the city has final plans in hand, they would approach the railroad for approval.
Speakers Randy Rice, Andy Curtin and Lynn Williams supported moving forward with the first phase of the plan. Rice, an architect, said that the city would increase the value of the lot across the street if it were converted to a formal parking lot. Curtin, Vice Chair of the CRA Advisory Board, expressed the Board’s support for moving forward. Williams suggested that granting agencies such as the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) fund projects by phase. He encouraged the city to move forward, expressing optimism that grants may be available for future phases.
Commissioner Poynter cautioned that the city might lose more than 12 spaces, since people currently park outside formal spaces. Commissioner Gass said that she would support the motion, but that she wanted exploration of Parking Lot E to continue. Vice Mayor Miller raised concerns over lighting parking lots in the interest of security.
Gerrity said that he recognizes that need. He went on to say that Streets Manager Rex Lester has estimated that it will cost $80-100,000 to convert the lot across from city hall into a parking lot. Gerrity suggested that this item be addressed in upcoming budget workshops.
Commissioners voted unanimously to support this motion. Gerrity said that he would get it to engineering tomorrow. In response to commissioner inquiry on start date, Gerrity reminded the FBCC that following engineering, which would take about a month, the project would need to be reviewed by the railroad, and the city has no control over the amount of time they will need for this, adding that the railroad’s legal department is currently reviewing the plans for the opening of the Alachua Street crossing.
Editor’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.