January 3, 2020
2019 closed with several wonderful activities (as we’ve become accustomed to in our community): the tree lighting, the Black Friday Pajama Party, Dickens on Centre, the lighted Christmas parade, and the Shrimp Drop. Downtown was busy with both locals and visitors. The weather could have been a tad better, but for the key events, it was a minimal factor. As Mayor Johnny Miller announced at the Shrimp Drop, all of these events could not happen without the leadership and assistance of dedicated volunteers: thank you to all who contributed their time and other resources for these events.
So what does 2020 have in store for Fernandina Beach? A quick glance in the rearview mirror to January, 2019, offers some insight as to what are some government efforts. In January (and February), the City Commission conducted its annual visioning session. That effort resulted in two key goals: develop the long (long, long, long) desired Amelia River waterfront park and expand conservation efforts.
As the City Commission prepares for its 2020 visioning session later this month, I can offer a brief summary on the efforts last year related to those two goals.
I appointed a Steering Committee composed of the Chairperson of several key boards to guide the review of the waterfront park. The members of that committee include Ms. Theresa Duncan (Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee), Mr. Michael Spino (Historic District Commission), Mr. Kevin McCarthy (Marina Advisory Board), and Ms. Arlene Filkoff (Main Street). The role of the Steering Committee is to provide insight to the park effort and report to their various boards on the progress of those efforts.
The Steering Committee has met individually and collectively with three consultants who have been tasked with facilitating the development of the park. The consultants include Passero Associates (responsible for developing the shoreline to protect the waterfront and downtown area from flooding and storm surges); Marquis, Latimer & Halbeck (tasked with compiling the components of previous park designs into a comprehensive concept for community review); and Ayres Associates (tasked with reviewing the likely reconfiguration of Front Street to accommodate the proposed park and planned railroad safety improvements). In addition to meeting with members of the Steering Committee, the consultants have met individually with City Commissioners for additional perspective from the Commissioners.
The current intent is to present the efforts of the consultants at the City Commission’s visioning session later this month. If the Commissioners are in agreement of the concepts presented, the Steering Committee will, in turn, present the concept to their respective boards for review and comment in February. Following those comments, the concept will be presented in community forums in March for public comment. Once that outreach effort is completed, the City Commission will accept the final concept and determine how to proceed in April.
The other goal of enhancing conservation efforts has been more notably and visibly successful. The City Commission supported and then approved a dedicated millage for the purpose of conservation efforts (more specifically, the acquisition of land for conservation). The conservation levy was presented as a one-time tax, with the pledge that in order to continue funding for conservation, the City Commission would present to the community a referendum to support such funding. Although specific details of how and what to present to the voters, all City Commissioners remain thoroughly committed to presenting such a referendum this year (either August or November).
Additionally, the City, working with representatives of the North Florida Land Trust (NFLT), has acquired several parcels of land that are (or will be) re-classified as conservation land. More properties are being reviewed for acquisition by the NLFT and I anticipate continuing to build the City’s relationship with the NFLT throughout this year.
When the Commissioners gather again later this month for visioning, the general direction and tone for the coming year will be cast. The visioning session is initial step of the budget process, already kicking-off the 2021 budget preparation cycle. I expect that the two goals set last year will continue to remain critical priorities of the City Commission. I look forward to continuing those efforts, as well as other new efforts as presented by the City Commissioners.
Despite the obvious emphasis on projects, community tone will play a key role this year. Projects never reach 100% acceptance, so it is imperative that sufficient outreach and discussion takes place in a professional and responsible fashion. When a decision has been made, the next step is execution, not opposition and derision. The political environment at the national and state levels likely will be troubling this year, and I know that we can be better at the local level.
I look forward to an exciting 2020 in Fernandina Beach.