Ground Hog Day on the Amelia Riverfront

Submitted by

Suanne Thamm

Reporter-News Analyst

Any hope for an early end to the June 5, 2012 Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting had already gone out with the tide by the time the commission at 9:00 p.m. got around to discussing item 10.1, Zev Cohen Front Street engineering work.  Former interim city manager David Lott brought this item to the commission for a decision on whether or not to proceed with completing the engineering work necessary to permit and cost various elements of the Waterfront Plan approved conceptually by this commission a few short weeks ago.

The discussion quickly deteriorated into the Fernandina Beach version of the old Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s on first?”  Ignoring for the most part the question before them, commissioners launched into questions involving the acquisition of the Rayonier property for a retention pond, the drainage problems on Front Street north of the plan area, the current vs. future need to open the Alachua rail crossing, condition of the Atlantic Seafood building, and whether the engineering work should be done in-house as opposed to by Zev Cohen.  These same issues have been discussed in one form or another at multiple city commission meetings and workshops since last fall.

Even the Board of Adjustment (BOA) got dragged into the fray, as Commissioner Pelican quoted from BOA minutes, apparently trying to make some point that a bait and switch had been pulled on that board when they reviewed the city’s case for a variance on the Rayonier property.  She was bolstered in her position by comments from BOA member Lynn Williams, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the Rayonier purchase.  Community Development Director Marshall McCrary refuted her assertions, along with those of Mr. Williams.

Commissioner Poynter attempted to get the discussion back on track by telling his fellow commissioners that things will always change, but that it is essential to have plans up front to make good decisions on direction and priorities.  He emphasized that once again, the commissioners are not being asked to authorize construction of anything.  Curtis Burkett, representing Zev Cohen, addressed the Commission in an attempt to explain why this matter was before them.  He said that without the information that would be obtained by drawing up the final engineering plans, he is not able to answer their questions regarding the need for items like the retention pond on the Rayonier property.  Also, until they receive final plans for the project, the Saint Johns Water Management District cannot issue permits.  Questioning the Alachua crossing at this point is irrelevant, because those plans have been completed.  The decision to build or not to build that crossing will not be made until later.  The question before the commission is to proceed or not with engineering plans only.

Mayor Filkoff in frustration turned to city manager Joe Gerrity and asked, “So, Mr. Gerrity, what would you propose we do?”  Gerrity said that there were 5 commissioners, each with a different proposal; he needed to know what they wanted.  Commissioner Pelican suggested a workshop.  Mayor Filkoff, with a hint of exasperation in her voice, reminded the commission that just a few weeks ago they had conceptually approved a plan presented by the Waterfront Advisory Group (WAG), a committee of citizens who had committed their time and talents to devise a plan incorporating suggestions and ideas of citizens culled from over 40 years of discussion over the waterfront.  “Did we mean it?” she asked.  Was it the commission’s intent to, as Mr. Williams had suggested, throw it all out and start over?   “We do that all the time,” she said, referencing the commissions’ decisions over the years to thank citizens for their input and then ignore their recommendations.  She also noted that when in a previous meeting it had been decided to save money by having the city prepare drawings instead of Zev Cohen, the product provided was inadequate, so the city had to pay Zev Cohen anyway to do the work.

Mayor Filkoff then polled the commission on the specific question before them:  Do you want to move forward with engineering plans for the waterfront as put forward in the conceptual plan?  Despite pregnant pauses between them, all except Commissioner Pelican voted to move forward.  Filkoff suggested that Gerrity meet with Zev Cohen and David Lott to coordinate plans.

Bill Murray could have directed this movie.

June 7, 2012 6:35 a.m.


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Eric Bartelt
Eric Bartelt(@ericbarteltgmail-com)
11 years ago

I’m tempted to skip the CC meetings in the future and just read your accounts of them. Less frustrating, with clearer understanding and humor to boot.