Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 26, 2015 2:01 p.m.
Last night about 30 people trudged to Fernandina Beach City Hall on a cool, misty evening in response to the city’s call for public input into developing its long-range Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. The publicly advertised meeting, attended also by many city staffers and two commissioners, was the first phase in an assessment to determine Parks and Recreation customer needs and priorities. Individual meetings will be held with city commissioners and staff-identified stakeholder groups around the city. Consultants David Barth and Carlos Perez, both trained and experienced in parks and recreation planning and urban design, facilitated the two-hour session.
Barth and Perez will produce their final study in two months, incorporating information gleaned from their meetings with residents and elected officials as well as from responses to the ongoing survey that the city has been conducting electronically via the city website and from paper responses to surveys mailed in utility bills. Interested parties have until this Saturday, February 28 to respond to the survey which may be accessed from the home page of the city’s website (www.fbfl.us) or by requesting a hard copy of the survey from Community Development Director Adrienne Burke (email@example.com).
The City of Fernandina Beach is the custodian of 15 areas that may be considered parks or conservation areas. Ranging from the Golf Course to the Greenway, Main Beach and Bosque Bello Cemetery to Ybor Alvarez Athletic Fields and ten more areas in between, these areas were depicted on aerial photo posters and arrayed around City Commission Chambers. Session participants made their way around the room during an exercise that asked them to identify items or programs missing from each area as well as activities or structures that should be removed from each area. Comments covered a wide range of thoughts. The lone comment posted about the Main Beach Park was “No more waterslides!” Many more comments were posted about other locations.
Prior to asking the audience members to post comments, the consultants provided an overview of their role in producing the study. They emphasized that unlike other areas of urban planning, parks and recreation planning was difficult to benchmark because of the unique nature of each community, its population and its natural setting. Their goal is to present a study that represents the Fernandina Beach community, and which can be used as a tool for decision makers in prioritizing and funding (or de-funding) programs and facilities.
In providing their overview of the problems facing all communities today, Barth and Perez spoke to the need to have high performance public spaces. “Parks are more than just recreation,” Barth said. Perez added that in today’s economy, the ideal is to satisfy multiple benefits and functions for each dollar spent. For example, the design of a park might also be an effective way to mitigate storm water drainage.
Each community needs to decide the best way to fund improvements that works for its citizens within the constraints of the political climate. Many communities believe in “pay as you go” funding, where funding comes from the general fund or grants. Other communities believe in floating revenue bonds or general obligation bonds to complete many projects at once. Another mechanism is partnerships with private or non-profit groups.
Barth conducted an exercise that allowed each participant to state what types of recreational opportunity or investments in parks are needed most. General categories cited by many people included:
- Preserving natural habitats and biodiversity. Audience members want to make sure that trees and wetlands are not sacrificed to provide more active recreation areas. Some felt that the city should be acquiring more conservation land and planting more native trees. Burying utility lines was suggested as a means to save tree canopies.
- Maintenance. Audience members cited the unkempt nature of many parks and facilities, also noting the outdated existing buildings.
- Handicapped accessibility. While it was generally agreed that the city meets the letter of the legal requirements under the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), the general feeling was that the city can do more to demonstrate to both residents and visitors that we serve the needs of the handicapped throughout our parks.
- Developing a citywide look, theme for recreation sites. There was sentiment expressed that there is too much fragmentation today, while at the same time some felt that recreation needs might be better served by concentrating activities by type in one location, rather than spreading them throughout all locations.
- Review existing recreation programs and offerings. Audience members expressed needs for more activities for teens and children, in addition to adding outdoor classrooms.
Other specific suggestions included:
- More bike trails and off-roading opportunities
- Better access to the Amelia River and Egan’s Creek
- Updated skatepark
- Better drainage at Alvarez Field
- Earlier opening hours for Main Beach bathrooms
- Converting abandoned property into community gardens
- Working with the School District to share facilities
Following the exercises, Barth asked for a show of hands from those who would support a general obligation bond to fix the problems identified. About half the people in the room seemed supportive.
The consultants touched briefly on handling the impacts of growth on parks and recreation. Barth said that differential pricing, which the city employs currently, is one way to fund growth. He suggested that at some point communities also consider capping enrollment or use because of parking issues in addition to maintenance and cost issues. Such impacts must be considered as management issues in the plan.
Community Development Director Adrienne Burke and the consultants thanked the audience members for their participation. The final quote of the evening:
“Parks and Recreation is a way to maintain quality of life and is worth it!”
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.