Candidate Ronald “Chip” Ross
October 4, 2017 12:50 a.m.
Editor’s Note: Every year, the Fernandina Observer presents questions to candidates for the Fernandina Beach City Commission. Their answers appear below. We have removed the comment option from this post in order to focus attention on the candidate’s position on issues that impact our community.
I believe our beaches, tree canopy, wetlands, historic district, residential neighborhoods, and local businesses need to be preserved, protected and nurtured. I am running for City Commissioner to preserve the great little town we all chose to live in.
My wife and I live 3 blocks north of Center Street in the historic district. In 2008 we bought and renovated a 100 plus year old house.
I am an Emergency Medicine physician practicing on the island. My experience in the Emergency Department has made me acutely aware of the health and social challenges confronting our City.
What is your vision for the Amelia Riverfront and how would you pay for it?
My vision for our riverfront is that it be a working waterfront that:
• is compatible with our historic downtown,
• increases public access and public open spaces,
• promotes waterfront and downtown businesses
• mitigates the threat of flooding.
• returns the marina to profitability, and
• revitalizes North Front Street.
For the MARINA, I support:
• Fixing the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! That includes repairing the fuel station, the main outer dock and the pedestrian walkways. This would be paid for through borrowed money reimbursed by FEMA, and State and City funds.
• Reconfiguring the docks south of Brett’s into linear docks to mitigate the siltation problem, which requires repeated dredging.
• Extending the docks north of Brett’s. This offsets the loss of dock space when the docks south of Brett’s are reconfigured. Extending to the north would be paid for through a Big P grant, grants from the state, FIND funds, and City funds. This northern expansion was recommended by the City’s marina consultant (ATM) in 1996 and it is the underlying reason the City purchased the Wade-Vituro property on N. Front St.
• Expanding the mooring field (located across the river from Brett’s) by increasing the number of mooring balls from 12 to 71. This will generate more revenue for the Marina, at minimal cost, and add foot traffic downtown. This would be paid for with FIND grants and matching City funds.
For the UPLANDS (the proposed park area between downtown and the river’s edge), I support:
• Proceeding with Parking Lot A engineering and determining the condition of the concrete bulkheads and Brett’s pilings to be paid with City funds.
• Developing an updated plan for Lots C & D (the area south of Atlantic Seafood) and E (the lot just west of City Hall) based on the results of the City survey. This should be done with City staff and community involvement.
• Constructing Parking Lot B (money for this is in the new budget and engineering for it has been completed and paid for) when the engineering for Lot A is complete (these two lots are linked and engineering for both should be completed before construction begins on Lot B).
• Constructing Lot A after Lot B is completed. To be paid for with impact fees and City funds.
• Determining the future of Atlantic Seafood, the Boat Ramp, and the Wade-Vituro land side property.
• Constructing Lots C, D & E after completing construction of Parking Lots A & B. This would be paid for with impact fees, City funds, and grants.
• Developing a plan for improving North Front St. that eliminates the blight. This is a complicated issue since it involves private property along the river. The City will need to work with the property owners to improve this area.
• Continuing pursuing opening the Alachua Street crossing, either as a pedestrian-only crossing [preferably] or a vehicle & pedestrian crossing. Develop a plan that integrates future use of the Wade-Vituro property and the crossing. The cost of a pedestrian crossing is approximately $30,000 while the vehicle and pedestrian crossing would cost in excess of $800,000. The pedestrian crossing does not require approval by the State of Florida.
How would you address community concerns about beach and downtown parking?
I live 3 blocks from Center Street and walk to the restaurants and stores downtown. With the exception of Shrimp Fest and the 4th of July it is rare that there is not parking within three blocks of any restaurant or store. At certain times to find a parking space within a block of a restaurant or store is challenging. For the disabled and elderly this presents barriers to visiting these facilities. It is also a possible deterrent for some shoppers.
To address this issue I would concentrate on enforcing the 3 hour limits on “premium parking spaces”, continue to try to reconfigure the parking arrangement on streets to accommodate more cars, create more disabled parking spaces, and refurbish and build sidewalks with proper lighting to make a 3 block walk a safe and pleasant experience.
One of the most coveted pieces of real estate on the Island is approximately 9 feet wide and 20 feet long — it’s a parking spot at the beach.
As more and more “day trippers” from off the island, come to the beach, parking within a block of the beach will become more challenging. Additionally new development [proposed Salt Life Restaurant and several proposed boutique hotels] will create more pressure for parking. There are a finite number of places you can park cars within a block of the beach. We need to decide who gets to park close to the beach – the disabled, city residents, hotel guests, or whoever gets there first. Paid parking will not reserve parking for the disabled, city residents, and hotel guests.
To begin with, the City needs to identify where there is a lack of parking and when the lack of parking occurs. We then need to have the difficult conversation of who gets priority for those limited parking places. Then can we craft a plan to decide how to proceed.
How would you address both environmental protection and private property rights in considering development projects?
I would follow the law. Under Florida Law any development in the City is required to be consistent with the City’s award winning Comprehensive Plan. Once a jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan has been adopted all development, both public and private, must be consistent the comprehensive plan.
The Florida Appellate Courts in the Pinecrest Lakes decision have opined, “the statute is framed as a rule, a command to cities and counties that they must comply with their own Comprehensive Plans….The statue does not day that local government shall have some discretion as to whether a proposed development should be consistent with the Comprehensive plan. Consistency with a Comprehensive plan is therefore not a discretionary matter.”
Where do you see potential savings for City operations?
In the short term, I think the City runs an efficient operation. Two glaring exceptions are the recent expenditure of $11,000 for consultants to spend a day visiting with the City Commissioners to determine the scope of a waterfront development proposal and the spending of 4.9 million dollars for an airport terminal building. I opposed both expenditures.
For the long term each future purchase, whether equipment, vehicles, software, buildings or parks must be evaluated not only on the original cost but also on the cost of future maintenance and operation.
Each department needs to develop strategies that trim cumulative spending while also maintaining—and hopefully improving—the services on which so many constituents depend.
Editor’s Note: To view candidate’s initial press release click here.
Ross faces Orlando Avila and Medardo Monzon in Group 3.