Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
On a rainy February 25, 2013, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) met in workshop session with the members of the CRA Advisory Board (CRAAB) at City Hall to discuss the current status of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and options for the future.
City Planner Kelly Gibson presented a 20-minute slide show with basic information for the commissioners on the legal basis for the CRA and the background for its creation along the Amelia River front in 2005. The governing body of the CRA is also called the CRA: Community Redevelopment Agency. The FBCC appointed itself to fill that role. The area encompassed in the waterfront/downtown CRA totals 39.5 acres, divided almost evenly between 14 publicly owned properties and 45 privately owned properties.
The 20-year CRA plan, adopted in May 2005, established objectives and strategies that aim to address blighted conditions as identified in the Finding of Necessity Study conducted from 2003-05 in a manner consistent with the community’s vision for the waterfront area. The plan generally serves as a roadmap for the private sector in redeveloping and reinvesting in the area.
Gibson cited major accomplishments in the CRA to date including completion of a waterfronts vision plan in 2006, new land use and zoning categories established in 2007, completion of design guidelines in 2007, a Front Street survey and a storm water master plan in 2010, and hiring Westrec, a marina management company. Additionally, with Forward Fernandina money, 60% of Front Street engineering has been completed.
Gibson reported that there are over 200 active CRAs in Florida today. She provided slides highlighting activities in CRAs in Ybor City, Gainesville, Bradenton and Sanford. She said that CRA plans are generally reviewed every 5-7 years.
Mike Zaffaroni, CRAAB Chair, followed Gibson with a second presentation providing a detailed rationale for the CRAAB’s recommendations to the FBCC to reset the base year and extend the term of the CRA. The funding mechanism for the CRA is Tax Increment Financing (TIF). It allows for the redistribution of tax revenues generated within the target area. In the city’s CRA, ad valorem property values are currently frozen at the 2007 base year. This means that revenue only accrues to the TIF fund if property assessments rise. Zaffaroni presented a graph showing how property values in the CRA dropped below the 2007 baseline in 2010, meaning that no money has gone into the fund. Resetting the base year to the current year would mean that as property values begin to rise, an increase over the new base year would bring revenue into the CRA.
The second CRAAB recommendation would extend the term of the CRA to 40 years, providing a longer period of time to make improvements. The current expiration date is 2026. The FBCC acting as the CRA would always have the ability to sunset the CRA earlier, should the plan be completed earlier. The longer life provides an opportunity for the city to consider issuing bonds to speed up the improvement process.
During discussion city commissioners asked many questions relating to the CRA requirements set out in the City Charter, whether the CRA could be expanded geographically, and whether new areas of the CRA would need to be contiguous to existing areas. Zaffaroni stressed that the CRAAB’s two current recommendations related only to resetting the base year and extending the life of the CRA 40 years.
At this time, it appears that Nassau County is supportive of both recommendations. Zaffaroni asked for a sense of the commission in adopting these recommendations, which the CRAAB believed needed to be addressed quickly, as property values seem close to bottoming out this year. Commissioners Filkoff, Boner and Corbett expressed support for moving ahead with the understanding that the FBCC could sunset the CRA earlier than 40 years. Both Mayor Pelican and Commissioner Gass indicated that they were still researching the issue and did not have a position at this time.
Additional discussion revolved around the negotiation process with potential developers and what sort of work might be appropriate for the city to contribute to private development plans and whether some measure of public benefit would need to be demonstrated in any such commitment. Gass raised the question of how to sell such public commitment to people who “live on 16th and Stanley” as opposed to living downtown. Corbett said that a lot has already been done downtown, all good. “It’s not like nothing is happening in downtown Fernandina Beach,” he said. CRAAB member Lou Goldman said that “selling” it to other areas of the city has to do with quality of life issues. Everyone benefits from a vibrant downtown and waterfront in terms of activities, parks and revenue to the city in terms of taxes and local jobs.
Chair Zaffaroni cautioned both bodies about moving too quickly to expand the CRA physically. He suggested that the FBCC acting as the CRA might charge the advisory board to develop recommendations in that regard and that the City Charter also needed to be examined to determine what else could be added without involving a Charter change. Gibson reminded the FBCC that if the recommendations on the table currently were passed, work would take place over the next 30 years to make all the improvements identified in the plan.
The FBCC expressed interest in sitting down with Mr. Richard Goodsell, a developer who has already gone through review and permitting for part of a townhouse project on N. 2nd Street. He is in the process of getting a topographical study of his property currently, and expressed interest in meeting with the FBCC about what he would need from the city to move forward. Despite differences in opinion among meeting participants over public vs. private benefits in any development project, consensus seemed to be to set up a meeting at some level in the city government to talk with Mr. Goodsell.
As the meeting concluded after an hour and 40 minutes, Lou Goldman said, “The ball is in our court. We’ve got to start with what we have.”
Editor’s note: The amount of $1,011,350 of the remaining Forward Fernandina money was returned on Monday February 25.
February 26, 2013 8:23 p.m.