Legal Analyst on Assignment
February 11, 2019 9:45 a.m.
There was a notable display of unanimity as the Fernandina Beach City Commission established explicit goals with regard to revitalizing the City’s waterfront and the creation and implementation of a conservation plan at its second “Goal Setting” workshop on Saturday February 9, 2019. Markedly there was agreement and accord as to how to proceed and accomplish those goals.
City Manager Dale Martin, together with his staff, was charged to develop and recommend to the Commission plans that would design, build and complete a “people-centric” waterfront from existing parking lot “C” to the Port by 2024 and to prepare comprehensive conservation plans that protect all environmentally sensitive lands within the City.
As the workshop unfolded it became clear that the members of the Commission intended to rely upon the City Manager to formulate plans and make recommendations to implement its vision and goals.
A goal of the Commission stated Commissioner Chip Ross, should be “to make the City Manager successful,” seconded by Commissioner Phil Chapman affirming “let him do his job.” Both Commissioners underscored the clear consensus of the Commission during its waterfront discussion that it was to “leave Dale alone.”
The morning began with a presentation by Commissioner Mike Lednovich reviewing the Commission’s past goals and plans. Lednovich asked the rhetorical question: “How many got done?” He suggested that in the absence of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound goals, plans are doomed to fail.
Lednovich highlighted the last 20 years of waterfront planning paying particular attention to the approval of plans in 2009 only to have a newly elected Commission return the over two million dollars in funding borrowed at 2%. An occurrence characterized as “mind blowing” by Mayor John Miller later in the workshop. Lednovich noted that the City has paid one half million dollars for waterfront infrastructure plans with regard to that project.
Lednovich expressed the hope that this visioning and goal setting exercise would not be pejoratively characterized as “just another waterfront workshop.”
Cindy Jacoby of BizHelp Consulting, who also facilitated the Commission’s first goal setting session on January 29, delineated the task before the Commission as establishing a two year vision with goals that are measurable, time bound and attainable. Goals, that she suggested, the Commissioners would be “willing to die for.”
Commissioner Len Kreger noted that the current Commission would be together for two years and is a factor in ensuring that “plans can happen.” He observed that he would rely on City staff to inform the Commission as to what is achievable.
Kreger then stated, followed by acknowledgement by the Commission, that the “waterfront was the primary goal.”
Ross asked what does the Commission mean and what area is defined when the term “waterfront” is used.
For Ross, the “waterfront” is from “Petanque (parking lot C) to the Port” and Front, 1st and 2nd Street. “Waterfront Park” plans developed in the past generally incorporated a smaller foot print. Kreger observed that prior waterfront plans have not addressed North Front Street, and that any plan should include the marina, necessary parking and a seawall. Ross noted that his waterfront boundary description encompassed the existing Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
After some discussion with regard to the CRA and its possible expansion, it was suggested that any proposed expansion would not be attainable within the two year time frame. Among other factors inhibiting expansion is the requirement of County approval.
Ross suggested that the “waterfront” should be “people-centric” not “car- centric” and requires an integrated “holistic” plan.
Miller raised issues related to the viability of the marina and whether there is sufficient land available for expansion that would make it profitable, for example by including a “boat repair yard.” Questions were raised as to what the marina’s operating budget would be without the obligation to pay for debt service. Lednovich suggested that the Commission was “in the weeds.” The City Manager advised that many of the questions raised concerning the marina will be addressed in a forthcoming report from Westrec, the City’s marina management contractor.
The Commission then agreed that any waterfront plan needs to include “a park in some form.” There was no vocal support for residential development west of the railroad tracks.
The question of providing a “safe corridor” adjoining the railroad tracks, as well as the opening of the Alachua Street crossing and ancillary modifications to Front Street, storm water and the interrelated discussions with the railroad and the Florida Department of Transportation dominated the next portion of the workshop.
The City Manager indicated that he and staff can provide the Commission with a design addressing these issues including a recommendation with regard to parking on the west side of the railroad tracks.
How to address shoreline stabilization given the mix of City owned and private property was discussed. The Commission then underscored its desire that waterfront redevelopment needs to be a public/private endeavor.
The Commission next adopted the following:
Design, build and complete a people-centric waterfront that includes a marina, park, safe pedestrian corridors, that is a public private development with shoreline stabilization completed by January 1, 2024.
The City Manager was tasked to return to the Commission on August 6, 2019 with recommendations, a design and a plan to effectuate the goal. Upon receipt of the recommendations, the Commission will then engage in outreach to the public and other stakeholders for input and comment.
The members of the Commission emphasized that upon subsequent approval and adoption of a waterfront plan it is their intent to implement that plan and to the extent possible there will be “no turning back.”
The Commission then turned its attention to issues of environmental conservation.
Discussion of issues related to the dune management plan and the tree canopy led the Commission to relatively quickly agree upon the formulation of a goal.
Lednovich suggested a referendum in December, 2019 to approve a $6,000,000 bond issue to support acquisition of 30 acres of land for conservation purposes. That proposal was, in effect, tabled after Commission members raised issues of the cost of holding a special election, potential voter turnout and the possibility of alternative sources of funding. Funding of conservation efforts, it was agreed, is to be addressed in the planning that results from the establishment of the goal.
To create and implement a comprehensive conservation plan that protects all environmentally sensitive lands as defined in the Land Development Code and the Comprehensive Plan in perpetuity.
Upon the adoption of the Goal the Commission then requested a subset series of plans by dates certain to begin to effectuate its Conservation Goal as follows:
A plan developed by an arborist and/or others to increase the City’s tree canopy by 5% no later than February, 2024. The plan is to be submitted to the Commission on or before August 6, 2019.
A dune management plan to be submitted by the same August date.
A plan to provide for such actions that are necessary in the next three years to improve the City’s flood rating from a 6 to a rating of 3 to be submitted on or before August 6.
A plan to acquire conservation property be developed in the next 90 days and submitted to the Commission on or before May 7, 2019.
At the conclusion of the workshop Kreger noted he did not want the Commission to lose sight of the issue of affordable housing. Miller also reminded his fellow Commissioners of his commitment to making Fernandina Beach a destination that is the most ADA compliant.
Editor’s Note: Adam Kaufman, a graduate of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, is a retired attorney, mediator, and arbitrator.