Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 19, 2014 1:02 p.m.
The June 17, 2014 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission began on time, and ended before 8:00 p.m. While it is not unusual to watch commissioners who sit together engaged in conversation prior to the start of a meeting, on this occasion there was much more pre-meeting discussion involving a greater number of commissioners.
Following presentations the FBCC unanimously approved the single item on the Consent Agenda: Resolution 2014-74, which approved a facilities use agreement with Driving Dynamics, Inc. to use city airport property to conduct corporate driver training on October 15-16, 2014. There was no indication in the accompanying agenda back up that the Airport Advisory Commission had endorsed this request.
Two audience members rose to speak during public input.
Andrew Curtin, CRA Advisory Board Vice Chair, informed commissioners that a bus tour has been scheduled for July 14, 2014 to visit three Florida cities to see how their community redevelopment areas (CRAs) operate. Curtin reported that the Amelia Island Fernandina Beach Yulee Chamber of Commerce has offered to pay a thousand dollars toward the cost of renting a bus that holds 50 passengers for a one-day visit to Tavares, Sanford and Vilano Beach. The Chamber’s support is contingent on the city’s willingness to support the effort and fund the remaining bus rental fee. He asked Commissioners to support the effort and to participate in the trip. Invitations to attend will also be issued to the Chamber of Commerce, Tourist Development Council, Airport Advisory Commission and city staff. The selected communities have commonalities with Fernandina Beach. (Reporter’s note: at this writing, July 23 is also being considered as an alternative date in an attempt to gain greater participation from City Commissioners.)
Beach activist and city volunteer Lynn Kreger informed commissioners that using fees currently being collected, the city’s stormwater management plan will not be completed for 70 years. He expressed his concern that talk about seeking voter approval for a general obligation bond to finance a waterfront park, a parking garage and a $20M seawall was “ludicrous.” He said that it seems that “everything is about downtown.” Stormwater problems on the other hand affect many areas of the city, including downtown. He suggested that a high tide is a greater threat for downtown flooding, as water backs up through inadequate stormwater infrastructure than danger from a hurricane or global warming sea level rise. He suggested that there would be more public support for a bond to fix drainage problems than other ideas that the FBCC seems to be pursuing. He also suggested that the FBCC consider setting up a special taxing district to solve downtown problems with tax support exclusively from downtown property owners.
Senator Aaron Bean seeks support
State Senator Aaron Bean was not on the agenda, but he asked the Mayor to re-order the agenda so that he could speak on behalf of Resolution 2014-76 endorsing Florida Senate Bill 820 designating a portion of South Fletcher Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Simmons Road as “Francis Gibbs Memorial Highway.” Bean recapped Francis Gibbs’ career in public service with Representative Ander Crenshaw and the Department of Transportation. He reminded the FBCC that the Florida legislature has already approved this designation and that the state would assume responsibility for the new signage. The FBCC approved the resolution in a unanimous vote. Bean said that at some future time he hoped to hold a ceremony to publicly commemorate the designation.
City Golf Course update
Billy Casper golf course manager Josh O’Brien reported that work is proceeding on schedule to improve both greens and the clubhouse. He said that the renovation of the South Course greens would be completed by August 1. O’Brien highlighted a special Billy Casper event scheduled for August 11: The World’s Largest Golf Outing. Billy Casper sponsors this event in conjunction with the Wounded Warrior Project. Last year, overall more than $760K went to the cause from participating Billy Casper courses. More information may be found on the website http://www.worldslargestgolfouting.com. He indicated that local business is picking up and listed some of the upcoming activities scheduled for the municipal course. He also announced that David Hillhouse, a new course superintendent from Tennessee, would be starting work Monday, June 23. Mayor Boner remarked that on a recent visit he had seen a noticeable difference in the greens and fairway and was gratified to see a full parking lot.
During the City Manager’s Report, Joe Gerrity informed commissioners that he had received word that Billy Casper was willing to assume $50K for the second round of greens renovation of 9 holes if the city would agree to a 5-year contract extension. Gerrity said he would bring this back for further discussion at a meeting on Tuesday.
Ordinances – First Reading
The FBCC passed all three ordinances on first reading with unanimous votes.
Ordinance 2014-19: Changing the city’s zoning map to assign a zoning category of CONSERVATION (CON) for 66 parcels totaling 14.53 acres of land located on the east side of Ocean Avenue between Dolphin Street and East 9th Street. Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican clarified that this does not affect properties or dwellings west of Ocean Avenue.
Ordinance 2014-20: Amending the Land Development Code, adding a new use for craft distillery and small scale wineries and breweries through revisions … Commissioner Charlie Corbett asked Senior Planner Kelly Gibson, “Are we adding this to the liquor laws we already have?” Gibson replied, “What this is doing is allowing for small scale craft distilleries, wineries, and breweries. and to provide for limited distribution at the facility in accordance with a recent state statute.” Commissioner Johnny Miller cited other areas of the country that use tasting rooms in small facilities to increase tourism. Miller added that he had spoken to Roger Morenc, owner of Marlin & Barrel Distillery, LLC about his plans for a distillery to be located at 115 S. 2nd Street, behind City Hall. He quoted Morenc as saying that of all the communities he had visited in hopes of establishing his business, Fernandina Beach has been the most welcoming and helpful one. Miller said, “[Morenc] said that we acted as though we really wanted him here. So well done and congratulations [to city staff].”
Mayor Boner invited Roger Morenc to speak briefly to the Commission. He expressed appreciation to the FBCC and city staff. “It’s been fantastic to work with the city and I have definitely been well received and welcomed. We are ready to put this distillery on the map as soon as we can take care of all the paperwork. We do hope to be a tourist destination. If you add up all the craft distilleries in the United States, our total market share might approach one percent. We’re hardly competing [with the bigger brands]. We are looking forward to doing tours and tastings and really being a support vehicle for what is here. We want to strengthen the craft. We will produce spirits but we want to be good stewards of the community as well. We appreciate the greeting and look forward to growing with the city.”
In response to Corbett’s question regarding his timetable, Morenc replied, “We are currently working at the local level on building plans. Once they are approved, construction will take 45 days. But the long pole in the tent is the federal government. We submitted our application about a month ago, and they generally need 4 months. Once they give us permission, it will take another 1-2 months for our labeling process to be approved. We would sure love it if we were ready to go in a high quality way for Georgia-Florida weekend [in November].” Later he added that while this was their target, he would rather get it right than get it fast.
Boner remarked that he was really happy to see this business open up here, because distilleries have an almost zero percent failure rate. Morenc’s project is unlike anything else the city has, he said. Morenc replied that in researching business opportunities, he and his wife decided that they wanted to do something “accretive”, adding to the community, as opposed to going into other activities like restaurants or antiques that are already well represented in town. In response to a question from Commissioner Miller, Morenc replied that he has already been in touch with the owners of the new brewery that will be going into the former O’Kane’s location to share notes. Morenc said, “It’s possible, feasible, maybe even desirable” that a winery or another distillery would follow them. The framework of the ordinance makes that possible, because it is not just geared toward his facility.
Morenc plans to concentrate on distilling rum, vodka and gin initially. His firm will start barreling its own whiskeys and bourbons but it will take a few years to bring them to market. “We support the human spirit, we support adventure, we support growth,” he said. “Our product names will speak to those characteristics.”
Ordinance 2014-21: Amending the Land Development Code, revising Chapter 6, Section 6.02.11 for hospital supplemental standards. This change would allow for a maximum building height of 60 feet for hospitals and to allow for off-site signage. It addresses the anticipated annexation of the Nassau County Baptist Hospital and incorporates the same development requirements for this use as Nassau County. There was no discussion.
Ordinance – Second Reading
On second and final reading the FBCC passed unanimously Ordinance 2014-18, which creates and amends various sections of the city code pertaining to taxis. Attorney Bach reminded commissioners that all this ordinance does is provide for reciprocity for cab companies from different jurisdictions to come into the city to drop off or pick up without a city license. There was no public comment or commission discussion.
The FBCC unanimously approved the appointment of local engineer Dan McCranie to a vacancy on the CRA Advisory Board.
City Manager Gerrity said that he will review city code requiring trash containers in the central business district and direct enforcement. “We do have a trash problem downtown,” he said, “and we are going to have to take a hard look at our ordinance and do something about it.”
City Attorney Tammi Bach asked for a special meeting on Thursday, June 19, and a “shade meeting” to address pending litigation on the water impact fees and the bond validation. She explained that shade meetings are sometimes called attorney-client meetings and are lawful exceptions to Florida’s sunshine law, with the proviso that transcripts of such meetings may become public after the legal matter is resolved.
City Clerk Caroline Best advised commissioners that as a follow up to their inquiry she has found that staff time may be charged for public information requests that take one hour or more, using the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee in the office handling the request. She said that the city will begin charging accordingly.
Commissioner Pat Gass asked for a status report on the situation with Rock Tenn involving the gate across Estrada Street. Attorney Bach said that she will call the mill’s attorney again and will notice them that absent a resolution, the city’s next step will be to seek a title opinion. Manager Gerrity added that he will also discuss the matter with the new mill manager.
Commissioner Miller asked for an update on the so-called “Sidewalk to Nowhere” east of the CSX tracks and west of the Marina Restaurant. Attorney Bach reported that following her subpoena for information, both CSX and Rail Link have responded expressing a willingness to comply if the city will execute a confidentiality agreement. She has explained that the city is not legally allowed to do that. Bach added that the talks with the Marina Restaurant owner and her counsel are progressing well.
Note that certain agenda items–presentations and Resolution 2014-78 authorizing the City Attorney to proceed with a complaint for Declaratory Action–have been reported in articles published earlier. (“Impact Fee: A new subplot,” reported by Adam Kaufman.)
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.