Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 7, 2014 10:53 a.m.

DSCN3819The Fernandina Beach City Hall Commission Chamber was comfortably full by the time Mayor Ed Boner gaveled the January 6, 2015 meeting to order at 6:00 p.m.   The meeting had a relatively light agenda, with two of the most controversial items dealing with zoning changes to accommodate requests of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) and a proposal to bring back the inflatable waterslide to a new location at Main Beach, while allowing the slide operator to rent beach chairs, umbrellas and other items.

Port of Fernandina

Mayor Boner began the meeting by announcing that the two items relating to the Port of Fernandina (Ordinances 2014-26 and 2014-27) had been pulled from the agenda at the request of Clyde Davis, OHPA Attorney. City Attorney Tammi Bach explained that by making such request, the OHPA understood that it could not bring back the proposal without restarting the entire process.

Mark Ross seeks city enforcement of landscaping buffers between Port of Fernandina and residential areas.
Mark Ross seeks city enforcement of landscaping buffers between Port of Fernandina and residential areas.

During Public Input, Historic District resident Mark Ross asked for help from the Commission in forcing the Port to honor commitments to landscape existing properties on N. 3rd and Escambia Streets. Ross recapped his efforts last month to resolve the problem, which culminated in City Attorney Bach’s advising that if the City Manager cannot resolve the situation, the Commission may do so at their discretion. Ross suggested that failing to address this situation sets a precedent for enforcing landscaping requirements in the Historic District.

Commissioner Pat Gass suggested that Homeland Security-imposed rules might have adversely impacted the Port’s landscaping plans. City Manager Joe Gerrity did not agree. He asked the City Attorney about the Port’s ability to provide the required landscaping buffer in city rights-of-way. Bach did not see a problem. Ross’ plea seemed to garner support from most of the commissioners, with Mayor Boner stating that commercial landscaping buffers help protect property values for residential properties.

DSCN3812Later in the meeting under “Commissioner Comments,” Commissioner Pat Gass reported that she had learned the previous day that 16 Port employees had been laid off. She expressed sorrow for the employees and their families and asked for community prayers to help these people through troubled times.

DSCN3818Commissioner Robin Lentz reminded audience members that the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) and the OHPA would hold a joint special meeting the next day, January 7, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. in the City Hall Commission Chamber. She encouraged all those concerned about the Port to plan to attend the meeting.

The main topic of discussion for that meeting is the Port’s draft Master Plan.

Main Beach Waterslide – 2015 season

Commissioners considered Resolution 2015-02, which would have provided for a facilities use agreement between the city and Oceanus Slides, LLC for operation of a temporary waterslide and beach gear rentals at Main Beach Park. During the 2014 season, Oceanus operated the waterslide via agreement with the city at the northeast corner of the Main Beach Park. The new proposal reflected the desire of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to relocate the slide to the area between the putt-putt concession and the boardwalk.

Location proposed by city Parks & Rec Dept. for Main Beach waterslide between putt-putt course and boardwalk
Location proposed by city Parks & Rec Dept. for Main Beach waterslide between putt-putt course and boardwalk

The new agreement, proposed for a 3-year period, would have changed the terms in other ways as well. Oceanus proposed to pay the city $10,000 per year, instead of a percentage of gross revenue. Also, Oceanus would have paid the city $75 per month for each month of operation (March 15-October 1) for water and electricity associated with the slide.

DSCN3801Commissioner Tim Poynter began discussion by stating his opposition to Oceanus’ intent to rent beach chairs, umbrellas and other beach gear as part of the package agreement. Poynter said that several local merchants, who own brick and mortar businesses, also rent these items. He felt that by allowing Oceanus to do so, the Commission would be undermining businesses that operate and pay taxes year round. He said that should the commission decide that it is a good idea to offer such rental services at Main Beach, the city should issue a Request For Proposals (RFP) to insure that all interested parties have an opportunity to bid and that the city could then select the vendor who would offer the best combination of both public rentals and city revenue.

Commissioner Pat Gass agreed with Poynter, asking Brett Palmer, the Oceanus representative, whether he had inquired about setting up the slide on the site of the previous Main Beach water park. Palmer said that he was not comfortable with that, since the property owners might have other plans. Gass said that she feels nervous when the city “gets in business.”

 

Vice Mayor Johnny Miller attempted to find a solution to the dilemma. He asked Palmer if he would consider operating the waterslide without the other rental operation. Palmer said that he would need to have the total package approved.

Parks & Rec staffer Jay Robertson responds to commissioners' concerns about the proposed waterslide.
Parks & Rec staffer Jay Robertson responds to commissioners’ concerns about the proposed waterslide.
Brett Palmer, Oceanus LLC
Brett Palmer, Oceanus LLC

Parks and Recreation Department staffer Jay Robertson addressed the commissioners at their request. He said that his department had requested the change in slide location and that in his opinion the new location was “not really blocking that much of the view.” He cited a good past working relationship with Palmer and Oceanus and said, “If there is a way to salvage this, we’d like to work with [Palmer].” In response to Vice Mayor Miller’s request for clarification, Palmer reiterated that he would not be able to separate the waterslide operation from the beach gear rental operation.

All five commissioners voted to disapprove the resolution.  At this time there is no other plan for a Main Beach waterslide for the 2015 season.

 

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.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Dave Lott (the real one)
Dave Lott (the real one) (@guest_26285)
7 years ago

All the commissioners seemed to want the waterslide operation since there isn’t another one operating. I agree that the plans for Oceanus with regards to the beach chairs and rentals appeared to be to set up their chairs and umbrells in the morning and, in essence, close off a section of the public beach to others, much like operators do for space in front of hotels and complexes for which they have agreements. All the commissioners seemed to find this a major issue, as well as competing with other brick and mortar businesses presently providing the service. Clearly Oceanus saw the rental as a major revenue opportunity given the large increase in a guaranteed payment to the City although they were also requesting a longer operating season. It will be interesting to see if they come back with a separate offer for the water slide. If so, I think the City would be wise to nail down more of the specifics as to hours and days of operation so there are no surprises. I think the waterslide would be a good combination with the putt-putt and the putt-putt operator seemed to agree.

Emily Carmain
Emily Carmain(@ecarmainbellsouth-net)
7 years ago

About the waterslide — I wish that someone really would come along & propose a waterslide at the site of the old one that was torn down several years ago. Since nothing has been done with that site, I wonder if there’s anything likely to happen there other than leaving a sort of eyesore vacant lot? If a new waterslide, temporary or otherwise, were possibly to go in anywhere in the Main Beach surroundings, I hope it would cost a little less per one-time ride, or even better, an affordable price per hour or some shorter option than just an all-day pass. Just thinking and wishing! The old one was a great thing for an hour or so of fun.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26289)
7 years ago

Emily,
As I am sure you know (but others may not), the land that previously had the waterslide, go-karts, climbing wall is under private ownership. With an assessed value of over $1.2 million I think it is unlikely that a waterslide or other recreational facility will be placed there. During the discussion at the Commission meeting, the representative of Oceanus was asked about handling his chair/umbrella/board rentals out of that area but he had no interest due to the uncertainly over the future use of that land. I suspect that as the economy improves and land values increase, the property will eventually be sold and developed as condos or a small hotel. If Mr. Palmer or someone else comes back with another proposal I am sure they would be interested in your input on the pricing structure; although their operational costs are highly fixed so I suspect they have minimal interest in providing a incremental fee structure especially given that it would require someone to monitor the number or times of use.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26290)
7 years ago

Congratulations to our Commissioners on rejecting Oceanus proposal for that monstrosity called a water slide. Pat Gass’s statement last year was ” It’s kind of cheesey” still stands. This type of trash in our town diminishes the atmosphere we are trying to project. I’m sure the neighbors are having a celebration party. I think a water slide, constructed properly and in the old location would be an attribute to the beach experience. If we want good attractions at our beach ” spend the two dollars” you can not go cheap. The OHPA Commissions decision to pull the spot zoning request, along with Kinder Morgan’s hold an the Dirty Air Permit are a good start towards the Port Of Fernandina joining with this community to building a better relationship. Our Port is an important part of who we are as a seaside town. But it’s only a part. This is Fernandina Beach that has a Port, not the other way around.

Louis Goldman
Louis Goldman(@lgoldmngmail-com)
7 years ago

As pertains to the beach equipment rentals – if that really is a viable business, why doesn’t the City put out an RFP for a rental kiosks at both Main Beach and the park at Sadler? A lot of other beach cities along the coast have that type of income sources.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26297)
7 years ago

Lou, I agree although timing is critical if to be done in time for Spring Break and the summer season. I think the commissioners had two main concerns: creating a de facto exclusivity beach zone if the companies were allowed to set up their chairs (or some of them) in advance of them being rented. I think that is easy to solve by not allowing them to be pre-set but maybe one being allowed although Pat seemed to imply there was some sort of existing ordinance against actually renting on the beach itself. The second issue is more difficult and it is much like the mobile food trucks – allowing a company to come in and locate in a prime area and not having to make the year-round investment that a brick and mortar retailer has to make. Halls Beach Store is right across the street from Seaside Park and I understand that Putt-Putt is renting chairs and the like. One would think that would satisfy the normal demand and where I think Oceanus was looking for the edge was being actually out on the beach as he said he wasn’t interested if he couldn’t be out there.

Frank Blake (Putt-Putt)
Frank Blake (Putt-Putt) (@guest_26306)
7 years ago

I never comment on blogs but couldn’t pass this up. Thank you Mr. Lott, you are correct sir about Putt-Putt beach rentals. My wife (Janet) and I are the owners of Putt-Putt and already have beach rental agreement with the city. We rented beach chairs, umbrellas, and bikes over the summer. Why we need another beach rental Vendor 20 feet away is beyond me! Contrary to the idea “beach rentals being financially viable” at Main Beach; liability insurance cost, City code, and annual equipment re-investment make for a very “insignificant” profit. We knew this going in and our marketing/financial analysis prior to purchasing Putt-Putt indicated at best, a 5% to 10% return on investment. 2014, we were right on target! Given this, we still needed a revenue stream that would one, provide a service to the adjacent hotels with the intent to keep the beach clean of visitor’s discarded chairs/umbrellas and secondly, help offset Putt-Putt facility maintenance cost incurred to sustain primarily a 4 month season. My wife and I live here and are deeply invested for the long term saying to make this point; out-of-town Vendors such as Oceanus and I include Food Trucks, they parachute in and drive back over the bridge with your dollars and no thought of giving back to the locals who helped create the opportunity! Not so much as a discounted price for local kids; ride 5 times and 6th one free, or something. This past summer, Janet and I (Putt-Putt) hosted 16 non-profits/local schools/Exchange Students, hired 22 local high school/college kids, Gifted over 1000 ($5,000.00) free games of Putt-Putt to elementary reading/honor programs, to mention only a few community contributions from Putt-Putt. And by the way, have a pretty good beach bum burger so folks say :-). I’m not touting, all the previous owners over the 55 year history of Putt-Putt have done the same as well as our brick and mortar business owners. It’s what we do to say thanks for your support of our investment and significant time it takes to run a small business. I’m of the mind that we need long term entertainment investment for the community where more than just the Vendor benefits. Please stop by Putt-Putt to say hello. I’ll be the guy with the drill fixing something 🙂

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26343)
7 years ago

Mr. Blake, Thanks for posting. Your comments are extremely important for the Commissioners and the community to understand. What transpires with a decision as made last year by the Commissioners to allow an off Island contractor to come in and setup an operation that steps on the toes of an established business. Not to mention what an eye sore that piece of plastic junk was. Hopefully our Commissioners will read your post and be enlightened. Thanks for all the good stuff you do for our kids. Who Know? PS That beach bum burger sounds awesome, I’ll be by to have lunch.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26339)
7 years ago

Frank, never say “never” right? LOL Thanks for adding your perspective.

9
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x