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