Historic Paver Fans Meet FDOT Realities on Atlantic Avenue

Lauree Hemke (right) discusses Eighth Street plans with Project Engineer Dan McCranie.

By Mike Lednovich

The city’s historic pavers along Atlantic Avenue will soon become history, replaced by a concrete sidewalk according to preliminary plans of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) presented Tuesday at a public meeting.

The fate of a majestic heritage oak tree near the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Eighth Street by the Hoyt House, which will be impacted by the sidewalk installation, has yet to be determined.

FDOT officials conducted a “hybrid” meeting to accept public comments on the project, which also included an informal “open house” session of reviewing the plans individually with concerned residents.

The walkway has been closed since last September after expanding tree roots displaced sections of the historic pavers creating what FDOT said was an unacceptable safety hazard for pedestrians on Atlantic Avenue just past 10th Street.

In a printed handout, FDOT said of the 130 feet of sidewalk, “the purpose of this modification is to improve safety and provide an uninterrupted pedestrian walkway.”

Intact hexagonal pavers dating to 1904 that are removed by FDOT will be given to the city to be reused at other historic downtown locations.

About 30 people attended the FDOT session at city hall.

The meeting had contentious moments such as when resident Linda Smith, a retired nurse, confronted the FDOT arborist about his comments during interactions with those attending. Smith in her public comment said that FDOT Arborist Early Piety had remarked to someone “are you listening to his drivel?”

Piety immediately responded from his seat, “What I heard is a lot of people who don’t understand the physiology of trees like I do and they make (inaccurate) statements.”

He was cut off mid-sentence by FDOT moderator Hampton Ray, who said, “This is not a back and forth question and answer session for this very reason.”

Many of the public comments included questions about the FDOT plans, which Ray said would not be answered because “we did have an open house session to answer questions, but this is a formal public comment period.”

Julie Ferreira of Stop the Domino Effect Now told FDOT officials “we will be outspoken and we will be active.”

She said if FDOT arrives at the sidewalk site with a backhoe with intentions to disrupt the roots of trees, activists will be in place “sitting on the walkway so you (FDOT) can’t dig it. This is an active community. We are a community that cares about our small town.”

Debbie Whiffen said, “I don’t think taking away our pavers and putting down a flat sidewalk, yeah that’s quick and easy, but this town is not quick and easy. This town stands up for what it believes in,” she said. “We have wonderful things here and we don’t want you taking them away. We want you to fix them. Please consider doing the right thing.”

Main Street Executive Director Lisa Finkelstein said although the walkway has been closed, it’s still being used and “is very dangerous and limits access to downtown.”

Finkelstein said the organization’s primary goal was to have the pavers in place be preserved. She said the alternative would be to salvage the pavers to be used elsewhere for downtown improvements.

She also stressed a priority was saving the oaks that create the framework for the entrance into the historic downtown.

Also speaking was Certified Master Arborist Chuck Lippi, who was retained by the Amelia Tree Conservancy to conduct an assessment of the oaks and make recommendations on how to repair the walkway.

“I’d like to provide some advice (to FDOT) and say what can we do, what are our options. I think it’s premature to say we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. Because we don’t know what’s going on (with the tree roots) under those pavers,” Lippi said.

During the open house session, Kristin Huben asked FDOT project engineer Dan McCranie about the plan for the sidewalk along the path of the heritage oak.

“The plan is to minimize the width of the sidewalk to three feet and then as soon as we get away from the root structure we flare back out to our normal six-foot width,” McCranie explained. “During all of that work, we have the FDOT arborist observing the work, and if he sees a specific root and says we can’t touch that, then we’ve got to stop, pause and figure out how to work around it.”

McCranie said that the pavers near 10th Street could be preserved because no trees are adjacent to the walkway.

But Fernandina Beach Maintenance Director Jeremiah Glisson said that the city had received written notices from the Amelia Schoolhouse Inn and the New Zion Missionary Baptist Church that the pavers should be replaced with a sidewalk.

“The city is discussing having a paver protection zone at the U.S. Post Office (on Centre Street),” Glisson said of a possible new location for the reclaimed pavers.

FDOT’s Ray told one resident “unfortunately we’re unable to accommodate that request (to save the pavers). But it kind of depends on peoples’ comments if we can do them, if we can make adjustments (to the sidewalk) we’ll certainly do our best.”

The public has until June 10 to submit comments to FDOT regarding the sidewalk plan. Comments can be emailed to Ray at [email protected]

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Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
13 days ago

Big government steps in again to preempt local decision-making. If the pavers have to be removed, why not put them in our pedestrian-friendly waterfront park?

Noble Member
13 days ago

Is the B&B there willing to sell a small right of way? Expanding the walkway to the South might be a solution?

Active Member
12 days ago
Reply to  Bob

I was informed that the B&B offered to gift that piece of the easement to FDOT because of the impact the loss of the live oak would have on their property value but FDOT determined that the gifting would not be allowable.

[email protected](@emoslaol-com)
13 days ago

Wow! Not “the pavers.” I’m glad that some childhood memories of home still exist. Whenever I visit home and downtown, jumping and skipping from those gray pavers was such fun.It made an ordinary, boring trip so exciting. I introduced those pavers to my children and grandchildren. When the memories fade from my head, I’m so glad “the pavers” meant enough , that I have pics.

Betsie Huben
Famed Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
13 days ago

There is a solution that re-establishes the walkways and helps save the trees long term. From a previous post by Nassau Sierra Club in 2023: “Luckily there is an available engineering solution that not only balances the need for a trip-free walkway in the future but that could also signal the city’s ingenuity and a reasoned approach to situation management. The bridging of roots and adjacent root plate should and can be protected for the long-range health and protection…” FDOT simply does not want to do the right thing and yet – it is our tax dollars that will pay for the work that will be done. Instead of paying lip service to residents, FDOT needs to hatch a plan to do the right thing here.

13 days ago

Folks who are blind, disabled, drunk, Felix, in a wheelchair, or walk to church with their baby stroller?

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