Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
Starting late because of technical difficulties with both broadcasting and live streaming, the March 4, 2014 regular meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission got underway at 6:15 p.m., and concluded at 7:30p.m. Items addressed briefly included the condition of the city’s soccer fields and a professional services agreement to evaluate the city’s pension plans. On first reading, the commission amended Section 62-73 of the City Code pertaining to the General Employees’ Pension Plan. On second reading the FBCC unanimously approved amending the city’s Future Land Use Map (FLUM) and an associated zoning change that added a 0.08-acre parcel on North 14th Street to public recreation lands. The FBCC devoted most of its discussions to the merits of adopting an ordinance that would permit dogs on restaurant patios under certain circumstances. They also listened to matters raised by the public regarding deterioration of the Old Town Bluff and environmental concerns associated with a new development bordering the Egans Creek Greenway. All 4 items on the consent agenda, 4 resolutions, and 3 ordinances passed with unanimous votes. Mayor Ed Boner recognized members of the now defunct Golf Course Advisory Committee (see previous article).
Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican pulled Resolution 2014-24 from the consent agenda to verify the extent of city work on the fields. City manager Joe Gerrity confirmed that the work area was confined to the area where new irrigation had been installed. He said that by July the fields would be better than ever. Seeding the area is better than sodding, he claimed, because it lessens the problems of tripping. Pelican said that when she first came on the FBCC, the fields were plagued with moles. She commended the city workers on the improvements.
Pension Plan Consultants
The FBCC approved extending its actuarial consulting contract with Gabriel, Roeder, Smith and Company for an additional year to resolve an 11% discrepancy between the consultants and the auditors and to evaluate new reports for FY 2013-14 and FY2014-15. It is suspected that the discrepancy is related to different software packages used by the two entities. The consultants will provide the FBCC with scenarios for reforming city pension plans.
Dogs on Restaurant Patios
Only service dogs are currently allowed by law to join their owners on outdoor restaurant patios. Commissioners continued discussing Commissioner Johnny Miller’s initiative to amend local code to allow any leashed dog the same opportunity at local restaurants, provided that the local restaurant desires to be considered dog friendly. Community Development Department (CDD) Director Adrienne Burke brought back to the FBCC information on how other communities handle this matter, including variations in costs of permits and frequency of inspections, if any.
Commissioner Pat Gass did not see the need for inspections, saying that the state restaurant inspector would handle that and report any restaurant that was not in compliance. Commissioner Johnny Miller questioned the state’s jurisdiction in the matter, claiming that restaurants were governed by federal law administered by the Department of Agriculture. Commissioners supported keeping permit fees low, and Burke provided several scenarios in which costs could range from $25 to $110, depending on whether the city conducted inspections. There was no consensus among commissioners regarding cost, but most seemed to favor a one-time permit fee that would remain valid as long as the permitted owner continued operation. Commissioners also wanted restaurateurs to understand that any ordinance permitting dogs on restaurant patios would not mandate such action. Burke will bring back the item for action at a future meeting.
Old Town Bluff
Old Town resident and activist Jennifer Harrison approached the FBCC during public input with a request that the city take action to prevent further deterioration of the bluff between Marine Street and the Amelia River due to both an increase in foot visitors and vehicular traffic on the Plaza. She said that the vehicular traffic is endangering archaeological remains discovered beneath the Plaza that were discovered as early as the 1950s. She also reported that whereas once there was a natural set of steps allowing visitors to walk down the bluff to the river, those steps have eroded due to traffic and tidal action. Visitors are creating new pathways that are not always safe and that may present liabilities for the city.
Harrison suggested that the city needs a small parking area at the end of White Street and a safer way to get to the river. She suggested that Marine Street would make a wonderful trail.
Commissioner Gass reminded commissioners that any solution to river access would involve three property owners: the City, the State (Fort Clinch) and CSX Railroad. City Attorney Tammi Bach replied in response to a question that CSX will neither sell, give nor provide an easement for land that it owns along the river. Commissioner Johnny Miller suggested signs to discourage driving on the Plaza, but Gass quickly jumped in saying, “We don’t need any more sign pollution in Old Town.”
CDD Director Adrienne Burke recapped several proposals made over the years to deal with the problems that Harrison raised. She said that the earliest grant funding would not be available before 2016 or 2017 and agreed with Harrison that something needed to be done sooner.
City Manager Joe Gerrity cautioned the FBCC that their discussion would be best handled as a noticed agenda item. Mayor Boner agreed and asked that the topic be placed on the agenda for the next FBCC regular meeting.
Amelia Oaks Development
Local resident and environmental activist Julie Ferreira brought to the FBCC her concerns over a new development on the north side of Sadler Road abutting the Egans Creek Greenway. She claimed that trees were being improperly removed and that creek banks were being stripped of vegetation, resulting in extensive soil runoff into the creek. She added that there is supposed to be a 25-foot buffer between the wetlands and the development.
City Manager Gerrity said that the development had been permitted by St. Johns Water Management District and that the developer, D&H Homes, has been extremely cooperative in working with the city on this project.
CDD Director Burke reported that D&H Homes has successfully completed all the reviews and permitting process on this project. She said that the illegal work on the property had been done under previous developers when the project was called Keystone. She said the current plan only calls for building 41 homes, a reduction from the previous plan. Burke also reported that the so-called creek Ferreira referenced was in reality a mosquito control ditch, so the area was not classified as wetlands and a buffer was not needed. Burke said, “We have scrutinized this project closely.” Ferreira remained unconvinced, suggesting that Burke check to verify that the trees tagged to remain had not been removed.
Mayor Boner and the other commissioners, with the exception of Commissioner Pat Gass, expressed their thanks to the Friends of the Library for the groundbreaking ceremony that took place February 27. Gass apologized for missing that event and other activities due to family reasons.
Boner said that he had received calls with concerns over the status of the Lynn Williams project funded with $8,000 from the city in May 2013 to pilot a water injection dredging system to alleviate siltation problems in the city marina. Vice Mayor Pelican said that Williams had updated the FBCC on his discussions with the state on this matter. Gerrity said that Williams would be making a presentation to the FBCC on another matter at the next meeting. Boner asked that Williams also report on the dredging project.
Mayor Boner welcomed the Concours d’Elegance to the island once again and advised the audience that the cars will be driving around the city Friday morning.
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.
March 5, 2014 4:44 p.m.