A “living coastline”

By Susan Hardee Steger
February 6, 2019 8:34 p.m.

Is there is a desire to create something special on the waterfront that only further enhances what is going on within the city? If the answer is yes, it is worth continuing the discussion and pursuing that opportunity,”

A living coastline.

During the Fernandina Beach City Commission  meeting on February 5,  “Front Street REOI FB FL“ presented a proposal to commissioners in response to  the City’s “Request for Expressions of Interest”(REOI) for City owned property located at 101 North Front Street.  Architect and urban designer, Amy Anderson introduced a proposal which plans for a “living coastline” of public open space west of the Front Street railroad tracks, and a “collective phased development” east of the tracks.

Although the REOI was directed to a single parcel of city owed  property, Anderson said a “broader engagement strategy” on the waterfront, rather than a narrow focus on one particular parcel of land is needed. Since the North Front Street area is in a flood zone and subject to extreme weather events, Anderson’s project team questioned whether or not the parcel is “the best place to build.” Instead the team proposed ecological restoration on the Amelia River waterfront, which will then serve as a “catalyst” for future development within the CRA.

Anderson provided data from a local tidal gauge; one of the oldest in the country. According to Anderson, “We have knowledge about this place.” For 120 years, the gauge has recorded over one million points of data.

 

Local architect and urban planner Amy Anderson (front) is seated near other project team members.

Members of the project team include Amy Anderson of acatects; Marc Hudson of North Florida Land Trust; Dr. Angela Schedel of Taylor Engineering, a firm specializing in shore protection; Douglas Davis, of Fletcher-Davis, a full-service commercial, residential, environmental, and conservation-based real estate development company.

Angela Schedel of Taylor Engineering presented global sea level rise trends. Since 1880, during the first 60 years of data collecting, a sea level rise of 3 inches occurred. Over the next 50 years, the sea level rose an additional 3 inches. During the last 25 years, we have seen, over a shorter period of time, a 3 inch acceleration in sea level rise.  Schedel said, “The sea level rise is happening. It is here,  and it is here to stay.”

The engineering plan to address flooding issues involves living shorelines, an approach that adapts to the environment using natural solutions. It is not simply “putting out rocks and planting grass,” but in addition offers an engineered shoreline stabilization system utilizing computer modeling to determine the impact of wind, wave, and boat wake action. The stabilization will improve water filtration, and slow sedimentation runoff. It will also “invite plants, fish, wildlife and people back to the water,” said Schedel.

Developer Doug Davis, from Fletcher-Davis said the study should begin with a review of a broader area and not just one particular lot. He believes the City must look at ways to “armor and protect this asset of Fernandina from future surges.
Is there is a desire to create something special on the waterfront that only further enhances what is going on within the city? If the answer is yes, it is worth continuing the discussion and pursuing that opportunity,” said Davis. “There is a unique opportunity to create public space and excitement.”

Marc Hudson representing North Florida Land Trust (NFLT) and a partner in the proposed project, said there are times (NFLT) works on projects which can benefit the public as well as private business. “We don’t partner with everyone. We are choosy.”

Following the conclusion of the presentation, Vice Mayor Len Kreger said he likes the proposal, but added a living shore line survey was done by St. Johns Water Management for the whole Amelia River. Anderson said, “There are a lot of plans, a lot of surveys. . . .  A lot of what has happened is very useful . . .  By gathering previous studies, with input from City staff, we can summarize the high points, the overlap, where are the strengths, and determine what all of the past plans have in common.”

According to City Manager Dale Martin, the next step is to give the commissioners time to let the proposal “percolate,” and gather community feedback on their reaction to the initial presentation. The plan is to place the item on the city commissions’ agenda in two weeks at which time the commission will determine if they want to begin due diligence and investigate a public private partnership over the next 3 to 6 months.

Hudson, as a member of the project team, said once the proposal is approved,  NFLT will facilitate public input and  perform due diligence on the public benefit side. “Public benefit is always our primary goal.”

Anderson suggested that the next step is to immediately begin an environmental analysis, a modeling, from the Port of Fernandina to Rayonier, moving east into 2nd Street.  A financial model determines if  there is a type of development that can happen east of Front Street that can work in relationship with public open space on the riverfront.  Anderson’s team informally agreed that a public private partnership “could definitely happen.”

It is Anderson’s opinion that prior waterfront projects get to the point when project costs are determined, but they do not move forward because there is no clear picture of funding.  Suggested funding mechanisms to explore are Municipal Service Taxing Units, Tax Incremental Financing (TIF), city owned real estate to be sold or traded, investment capital from private equity funds, or targeted grants for resiliency.  According to Anderson, all of the mechanisms need a clear plan to make the compelling case for investment.

Fernandina’s Main Street was tasked with the responsibility to seek and vet proposals.  According to Filkoff, no other written proposals were received.  Martin thanked Arlene Filkoff, executive director of Main Street, because “it was through Main Street’s efforts that this project is before us.”

To view complete presentation, see below.

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2 Responses to A “living coastline”

  1. Frank Quigley says:

    Editor,

    I attended this most recent meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission and was pleased to see these presentations.

    I wholeheartedly support this approach and hope the commissioners will see fit to embrace it and move forward.

    One of the presenters struck the perfect chord with comments regarding the very special qualities of Fernandina Beach. We live – first and foremost – on an island. As residents we can use the ocean beaches extensively, we can fish offshore, we can boat the extensive waters between Amelia Island and I-95. I wonder how perhaps some in our community can’t see this, plainly. If you don’t appreciate that the water is essential to our quality of life, you might as well move to The Villages.

    The other important aspect is “brand”. Fernandina Beach’s reputation is sparkling, especially to tourists. Center Street is special and its historical terminus is the waterfront. It is where David Yulee’s cross-Florida railroad intersected with the deep water port. Fernandina’s story begins and ends with the history of the port – and it is a bit of pixie dust we need to embrace. A well-developed waterfront can become a breath-taking sight, yet for too long we’ve had to stare at muck, and abandoned pilings, rotting buildings, rubble and trash.

    Commissioners, please don’t kick the can down the road any more. Enough of the “visioning” thing. Just do it. A public/private partnership sounds like its just the ticket.

    Frank Quigley

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