Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 23, 2015
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) minus Vice Mayor Johnny Miller met in workshop session on March 19, 2015 to review findings from site visits, public workshops and stakeholder meetings, and survey results regarding the Parks Master Plan. David Barth, the city’s plan consultant, and Adrienne Burke, the city’s Community Development Department Director, walked commissioners and a few curious members of the public through an extensive slide presentation that concluded with some long-term recommendations to make city parks more functional by concentrating activities in some areas and returning Central Park to a true, classic version of an urban park with open space, shaded benches and areas for people to enjoy passive recreation. Barth & Associates will finalize the plan in April.
David Barth suggested that the city does not really need more park facilities; rather it needs to relocate some so there is a uniform level of service (LOS) throughout the city. He stressed that all neighborhoods should have easy access by foot or bike to parks. He also suggested improved public connectivity through some type of loop transit system that would allow more residents to access specialized park areas, such as beaches, pools, ball fields and the riverfront without automobiles.
To match the level of serviced provided by other Northeast Florida communities, Barth suggested that the city would need to develop an additional 0.3 miles of paved bicycle trail and add one more basketball court. Other activities, such as a saltwater pier, horseback riding trail and camping spots may be found nearby. Although a state park, Fort Clinch meets many park and recreational needs for city residents.
Barth cited five short-term priorities for city parks:
- Improve maintenance, create new design standards – minimum standard of care consistent with City regulations, historic district
- Provide facilities and programs to meet current needs (example: pickleball)
- Improve connectivity
- Improve communications
- Design, construct, program, and maintain each element of the system as a first class public facility: waterfront, beaches, streets, aquatics, sports complexes, community centers, parks, trails, special event spaces, playgrounds, amenities
He suggested that as part of the equity issue, each neighborhood should have the following facilities within a walkable distance: playground, multi-purpose open space, multi-purpose sports court, picnic shelter and restrooms. Using a study performed a few years ago to determine architectural characteristics of city neighborhoods, the following map was used to denote city neighborhoods:
CDD Director Adrienne Burke, in speaking to the results of the recently concluded public survey on parks and recreation in the city, said that although the survey was not scientific, the 624 responses represented the best response to any city survey to date. While about half the respondents said that the level of maintenance on city parks and recreation facilities was good, respondents also cited the need for new and/or updated equipment and facilities, more restrooms and outdoor seating (preferably in the shade), better trash pick up and improved maintenance of existing bathrooms, drainage at fields, outdoor showers at the beach, etc. Slides below show areas where maintenance is currently needed:
Responses to both the city survey and the consultant meetings with stakeholders demonstrated that many residents of all ages and backgrounds are unaware of current recreation facilities and programs offered, underscoring the need for better communication. Social media can play a big role to improve communication, as many other communities have found.
Complete results of the survey and the March 19 presentations are available from the city and will soon be on the city website.
Barth told commissioners that what is needed next is an implementation strategy. He said that the city should consider the return on investment that it achieves through implementing a long range strategy to insure high performance public spaces for residents, and that such a system must be upgraded over time both as part of maintenance and to meet changing recreational needs.
He cited the example of Naples, FL, a city of 19,000 residents that embarked on a $35M project to upgrade and revitalize its parks and recreation system. When asked how he could justify such an expense during a recession, the Naples mayor responded, “We are spending $35M because we are in a recession.” Barth urged the FBCC to get the maximum out of public investment, claiming that every project has potential partners. “Don’t spend a dollar on cheap solutions,” he said. He said that he is working on a project in downtown St. Petersburg and that for every dollar spent on the waterfront, they are seeing an $8-9 return.
After Barth and Burke addressed immediate concerns with parks, Barth proposed some longer-term solutions to rename certain areas to reflect its main function. For example, the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center would become the Atlantic Aquatics Center; Buccaneer Field would become part of a new, enhanced Fernandina Beach Sports Complex near the airport. And interestingly, he would return Central Park to the classic urban design of a city park with landscaping, trees, grass and opportunities to sit on benches or picnic.
Four members of the public spoke, generally supporting the findings, conclusions and recommendations. Long time local resident Michael Leary, while requesting more time to study the plan, said that local leadership too often gets bogged down with “can’t” as opposed to finding ways that the city can do things. He reminded commissioners that the largest park venue in the city is the Greenway, adding that most residents value open areas and green space over facilities.
While the FBCC was forced to conclude discussion after 2 hours to attend another meeting in Yulee, Commissioner Pat Gass said that she supported improved communication and maintenance for city parks and facilities. Barth did not spend significant time on funding strategies. Burke presented a survey response, showing that the position of residents is mixed with respect how to pay for improvements that they believe the city needs or wants.
Reporter’s Update: The entire March 19 presentation may be viewed on the city’s website under the Parks and Recreation tab http://www.fbfl.us/index.aspx?nid=103.
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.