FBCC meets, talks conservation referendum and more

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 20, 2020

Members of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) did triple duty this week, conducting their Regular Meeting on February 18, 2020 and two joint meetings:  one, a workshop with the City’s Historic District Council  (February 18)  and one with the Nassau County School Board (NCSB) on February 19, 2020.  Highlights of the Regular Meeting are presented below.

During their Regular Meeting, the FBCC unanimously approved Resolution 2020-28, naming the Peck Center Gymnasium “the Coach Nelson P. Williams, Jr. Gymnasium, thereby honoring a request made at the previous meeting by the Peck Alumni Association.

The FBCC also approved Resolution 2020-29, approving a contract with Dr. Adam S. Branoff, M.D. for services as Medical Director for the Fernandina Beach Fire Department.

Commissioners discussed the best way to move forward with a referendum seeking voter approval to levy a tax increase for the purpose of buying undeveloped land for conservation.  Initially thought had been given to working with Nassau County on the conservation referendum that the County is also putting out to voters this fall.  The FBCC had sought a guarantee from the county that should their referendum pass, an agreed upon percentage of funds collected would flow to the city for land purchases.  The County declined to execute such an agreement, so the City will proceed with a stand alone referendum.

Details of this referendum continue to be a topic of discussion, with a final decision required by the summer if the item in order to place the item on the November General Election ballot.

Commissioners also discussed action at the last Planning Advisory Board to increase the fine for unpermitted tree removal from $1,000 to $5,000.  City Attorney Tammi Bach said that she had discovered a previous Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO) that would allow a fine for such a violation to increase to $15,000.  Even higher fines can be charged for the unlawful removal of a Heritage Tree.  This issue will come before the FBCC for a decision in March.

Commissioners discussed continuing issues with the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) regarding: moving the federal channel; the City’s failure to receive the 2019 PILOT [Payment In Lieu Of Taxes] payment from OHPA in the amount of $50,000; OHPA’s failure to maintain the historic building housing the port’s Custom House, and their claim that a new facility is needed; status of mandated mediation in the dispute over OHPA’s requirement to continue making PILOT payments to the City.

Commissioner Chip Ross reported that by his calculation following a visit to city facilities the City would need $50-60M in capital improvements in order to bring facilities up to par.  He cautioned that the City needs to change its way of thinking to take care of existing facilities.  The two exceptions he appeared to note:  a new firehouse and possibly a new city hall.

Ross also reported on a survey he had conducted on City owned land to respond to concerns in some parts of the community that the City should sell land it owns to pay for new capital improvements.  Using a list generated by the county Tax Appraiser, he reported that the total area of the City is 11.44 square miles, of which the City owns or maintains approximately 29 percent excluding the beaches.  Included in the City’s holdings are 60 miles of roads (0.7 square miles, or 36 acres) and 1,664.52 acres of land, which equals 2.6 square miles.

He broke down the uses of the City owned land  into general categories:

  • Buildings – 18.84 acres
  • Utilities    – 27.82 acres
  • Cemetery- 31.13 acres
  • Marina (submerged lands and uplands) – 17.63 acres
  • Golf Course and adjoining property) – 358.47 acres
  • Conservation land – 222.06 acres
  • City owned land that could be rezoned Conservation – 18.26 acres
  • Parking lots – 1.97 acres
  • Public housing – 5.8 acres
  • Parks – 43.1 acres
  • Airport property – 847.43 acres
  • 3 Miscellaneous properties totaling less than a third of an acre

Ross concluded that the City is not holding lands that it doesn’t need or which could be easily sold.

City Manager Dale Martin reported on several items.  The Simmons Road Park permit has been signed off by the City’s Technical Review Committee.  The project will soon be heading out for bid.  RFPs will also go out soon on determining City Hall space needs and soliciting interest in managing, selling and/or leasing the city marina. Nassau County has approved the beach cleaning contract.  The County, through the Tourist Development Committee (TDC) will pay for beach cleaning after some details are worked out.  The City will be moving forward to construct a sidewalk on the east side of the railroad tracks between Ash and Centre Streets.  Martin also asked Commissioners for a future “philosophical discussion” to reconsider Special Event Fees, specifically for city non-profit and religious organizations.  Last year these fees brought in around $20,000.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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.