Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 8, 2015 8:25 a.m.


BachToward the end of the Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) held on May 5, 2015, City Attorney Tammi Bach reported on the status of city talks with CSX railroad regarding the so-called sidewalk to nowhere. City Manager Joe Gerrity also updated commissioners on improvement projects that he would like to pursue in the Front Street/CRA area. Also, the city and the county have reached agreement on a complaint regarding what a city resident has termed a “sinkhole” endangering her property.

CSX and the “sidewalk to nowhere”

Bach reported that she had just completed a letter to CSX affirming that the city and CSX do not agree as to who holds title to Front Street, but that they agree to proceed with the city’s building a sidewalk on the east side of the tracks between Centre and Alachua Streets (aka, “sidewalk to nowhere”).

Mayor Ed Boner asked if the city had heard back from the state and the railroads with respect to opening the Alachua Street rail crossing. City Manager Joe Gerrity replied that the city is waiting for the anticipated Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) formal approval of the 5-year permit extension to begin work. He said that the city has received price estimates from First Coast Railroad for constructing some improvements at the crossing, along with installing proper signalization. Gerrity indicated that he also wanted to extend some improvements, such as lighting and sidewalks to the new city parking lot at 2nd and Broome Streets. The new parking lot has not been completed, but was available for Shrimp Fest parking. Gerrity also wants to provide for sidewalks and lighting along Alachua Street. “We are pulling it together,” he said, “and it is coming together.”

Boner asked if the city was also pursuing sidewalks along Front Street. Gerrity replied that the City Attorney is trying to put together a field trip to CSX to be able to present all the city’s plans for that area that require some degree of support from the railroad.

Vice Mayor Johnny Miller said that he had understood that the city was waiting for word from CSX, but now it sounded as though CSX had been awaiting information from the city. Bach said that at the last meeting, Commissioner Tim Poynter had said that either the City Attorney or the City Manager needed to show up at the CSX door to get some resolution on the sidewalk to nowhere. The next day the city called, and Mark Holder of CSX indicated that the matter was in the legal department because of title concerns. Bach said that was news to the city, but once the matter was defined, the city moved to provide the necessary information.

GerrityGerrity reported that Bach has had more luck with the legal department than he has had in dealing with CSX. “I think we’re real close,” Gerrity said, “and it’s just a matter of pushing forward and keeping the pressure on.” Gerrity added that not everything the city wants to do in the Front Street area meets CSX standards, but that they realize that the proposed improvements are better than the situation that currently exists with respect to safety standards. In response to a question from Miller, Gerrity explained that First Coast Railroad is the CSX lessee for the portion of the track along Front Street. Both CSX and its lessee have had to sign off on the agreement.

Bach reminded commissioners that although the matter has gone on for several years, nothing could be done until the court issued its ruling last December. It’s been 5 months of working with CSX to try to build the sidewalk that the court authorized. Miller expressed his confusion and frustration following First Coast Railroad’s agreement with the city’s plan, but no movement from CSX. Gerrity replied that he has had to send CSX two revisions of the city’s plans that First Coast Railroad approved. “I don’t know what to tell you, except it’s a very difficult process to move through,” Gerrity said.

DSCN4727Miller added, “It’s a very difficult thing for people to move through that area, too, without a sidewalk.” Gerrity agreed. Miller said, “Just to reiterate, we are doing everything possible. You’ve turned the screws, and I know that we have to have a good relationship with CSX because of other things that are happening, but are we dropping the hammer as hard as we can?”

Attorney Bach replied, “Yes. We have called Washington, D.C. We want it out of our hands as soon as possible.”

Manager Gerrity said that the city had received a visit from Calvin Gibson from the Department of Justice a year ago because of the ADA suit in connection with access. He asked Gibson to intervene with CSX. Other than taking legal action, where outcome is not guaranteed, Gerrity believed that the city has done all it can.

Miller said that he and Gerrity had had a conversation over the fact that there is a group of local citizens ready to visit CSX and hold a press conference to make the case for urgency. Gerrity replied, “Let’s not do that, because I’ve had to spend a lot of time [with CSX] on damage control between one citizen’s telephone calls and some Facebook posts that managed to get them concerned about a protest meeting.”

Miller said that there was a group of people who were willing to put faces to this complaint, and that he felt that would have an effect in moving the issue, which has dragged on for two years. Both Gerrity and Boner expressed concerns that such a tactic might backfire.

Pheasant Lane “sinkhole” decision

Janet Miller has challenged the city's claim that it has no responsibility for her problem.
Janet Miller has challenged the city’s claim that it has no responsibility for her problem.

Bach also reported back to the FBCC on the issue of the privately owned Pheasant Lane property that has been discussed at city and county meetings. She reported that both the city and the county public works staff have agreed that there is no sinkhole on the property in question, “and it is not going to open up and swallow dogs and kids.” There is a drainage structure failure on a neighboring piece of private property on the other side of a fence. Bach said that she couldn’t legally justify advising the FBCC to spend public money to fix a problem on private property. Miller asked what the property owner should do next. Bach said that the neighboring property owner is aware of the problem, and he can do something if he wishes. She said the line in question goes through private property all along Egans Creek. With the agreement of the FBCC, Bach will draft a letter to inform Janet Miller, the complaining property owner, of the city’s decision. She said that she anticipated that County Attorney Mike Mullin would be providing similar advice to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.

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.

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kinney leonard
kinney leonard (@guest_34453)
7 years ago

Im sorry that i cannot muster the same sentiment of the city manager. I do not care about the sensibilities of a rail road that runs through OUR city. I am also completely befuddled as to how a certificate of occupation was issued for The Salty Pelican without the proper ADA compliance. I count the owners of that fine establishment as dear friends of my family. They have invested so much to this city. The businesses that they operate bring much needed revenue to this city and the downtown through taxes and licensing fees. That being said, I have also been witness to my wife, my beautiful wife that just wants to be like everyone else and have access to the same facilities that other more able bodied people have. I do not speak from the side. I am also disabled. Im also in a wheelchair. I also assure you that your sensibilties and your obvious soft handed approach has gotten exactly nothing done. It saddens me to see such politicking in such an obvious saftey concern. I will not stop. I will not allow you to dictate where my wife wants to eat. I will not allow you to minimize mine and my wifes safety allong with anyone else who is disabled . I do not need your permission nor do I seek it. I am telling you now that I will do what it takes to solve this issue. Up to and including YOUR job if need be Mr. Manager. I have sat back and watch you sit on your hands long enough. I am disappointed in you and I have lost faith in this process because of your sensibilities and lack of character to help those that need it. I ask you if you are so worried about CSX maybe you should ask them for a job. It looks like you may need one soon.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_34460)
7 years ago

Kinney, although I don’t have the specific information to document my answer, it is my understanding that the Salty Pelican does meet all the ADA requirements for the property it controls. It has a designated ADA parking space and it installed an ADA compliant sidewalk on its property. Since it was in compliance in that regards, there would be no reason to withhold a CO.

kinney leonard
kinney leonard (@guest_34467)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

That is why I stated what i did about the businesses themselfs. I mean from a city standpoint and liability because of the situation that is presently going on. I mean that this should have never happened to begin with if we had the correct people in the right positions with ALL available information. How does a city open itself up to that? I again emphatically state that Al and his partners have been nothing but the most helpful and accommodating period. The only time me and my wife go downtown is to go there. My question is, again, how does the city even open itself up to this situation to begin with? Do you mean to tell me the first time that the city actually saw patrons walking down railroad tracks to get to one of the best places you have on the waterfront that someone somewhere didnt see that maybe that would be a problem? My problem is not with Al. They have done MORE than anyone on this island to make me and my wife feel welcome. What I AM stating is that when a simple sidewalk that makes sense to any person that looks at it takes so long. Because of CSX because of the lessee etc. Its a sidewalk. I dont eant the city managers job. I dont qualify. What I would like is to know that we as a comminity can get a sidewalk put in without this. I mean really? If a sidewalk is that difficult to get installed then what say you of the bigger problems that are going on? You dont see the gridlock at the top? You dont see finger pointing and excuses? Again, it is a sidewalk. Just a sidewalk to you. I assure you that sidewalk is someone elses only way. People that use wheelchairs have a very hard time rolling over gravel and loose concrete. The problem is not The Pelican. The problem is about 25′ to centre . I assure you that 25′ is the same as a million miles to my wife.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_34470)
7 years ago

Kinney, why I fully understand your frustration I know you understand that the property where the sidewalk is to be located was the subject of a property dispute. I know there were unsuccessful efforts to work out a non-judicial resolution with the property owner that would pave (pun intended) the way for the sidewalk to be constructed. Since those efforts were unsuccessful, the matter got into the courts and was only “resolved” at the end of last year.
Unfortunately the land title documents appear to be conflicting and confusing. Just as you wouldn’t want your neighbor to build something on what you consider your property, this had to go through a painfully slow process to reach this point. Again I understand your frustration and hopefully all will be resolved in the near future.

kinney leonard
kinney leonard (@guest_34474)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

Im a simple man. I do not mean to offend. I will explain myself. I understand the property dispute, I understand wanting to make sure that it is done right. I do NOT understand that we are told different excuses at different times. I have personally heard of this situation going on a year. My issue is with the city. I will say this again, our favorite place of solace, where me and my wife feel the most comfortable, is The Salty Pelican. We had our reception there to the objections of the more traditional family we have. I would do it again tommorrow. I feel as though the city asks for this economic developement on the waterfront to stimulate the local economy. I support that. I do not support the city process that asks for this and welcomes the major investment of Al and his partner and then, when Al and his partner build a wonderful restaurant that is in fact absolutely ADA compliant in every way ,the city does not hold itself and other businesses to the same standards. As I said before, Im a simple man. Im saddened by the fact that through all of this finger pointing and side bar politics there is one thing lost in translation….. There is still no safe sidewalk. I feel we are right to be impatient because of how long this has taken. Im sure everyone involved are great people on a personal level. My problem is with the proffesional side. If the city tells us that they have done all that they can and that the issue is with CSX but at the same time tell the public not to address CSX, what does that say to us as a community? What does that say of our allegiances? Im not a politician. This is my opinion.

Chris Cherry
Chris Cherry (@guest_34477)
7 years ago

Mr. Garrity said they have done all they can without taking legal action. While the overall process may have taken two years, nineteen months were spent getting a court decision. The city has only been negotiating with CSX and FCRR for four months or so.
I’m sure Mr. Garrity’s concern is that citizen campaigns or protests may push everything back into the courts.
It’s not uncommon to be given a court date two or three years in the future, and the city will need to pay for outside council, expert witnesses and such.
Wouldn’t you consider it reasonable to try and work things out cordially before committing to dragging the process out a few more years and risk the court ruling in CSX’s favor?
I realize the pace of these things is slow, but wouldn’t you agree the alternative is far worse?

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman (@guest_34479)
7 years ago

I believe that the OVERWHELMING majority are incredibly anxious for this sidewalk to be installed so that EVERYONE can walk, roll or hobble safely…, as a family, especially! I have been fighting and following this mess for longer than I care to remember and it’s time for a conclusion. To Kinney, our new son, you have put your words and feelings out there and we know they come from your heart…thank you! Dave, your words are so appreciated and understood….sometimes, in the heat of the moment, our hearts explode in frustration but the end is the truth. To everyone else, stick by….the end to this safa IS near:) We plan a celebration on the day that we can all get to the Pelican!!!!
THEN….onto the next story:)

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