“We need a plan . . . ” – An opinion

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By Mike Spino
March 13, 2019 10:00 a.m.

It seems like the appropriate time to take a step back and reflect on the direction our city is taking and how land conservation could be a part of the discussion. Some in the community, not all of them city residents, have advocated for the city to take an aggressive approach to limiting development and setting aside private land for conservation. This is important since the many in the community have identified a number of priorities for the city’s attention including downtown and the waterfront, beach improvements, recreation facilities and stormwater.

There is likely some opportunity for synergy between these projects and conservation. However, If the city is to proceed on a conservation path then most residents will want to see a plan starting with the goals and objectives of conservation for Fernandina Beach. The plan should include the rationale and specific steps to be taken by the city, coordination with the county, financing, economic and demographic impacts, implementation timelines and include input from the broader city community. Finally the plan should detail the criteria and process for identifying parcels for conservation.

For a conservation plan to gain broad community support it will require public outreach beyond the constituency that shows up at City Hall. In the 20 years I have owned property and lived here I have found that the city residents are quite astute at recognizing what is in their best interests. I am reminded that the referendum to purchase the Greenway was a close vote. Any serious effort at conserving more private land in the city will require public financing beyond the capacity of the city’s operating budget. Just like the Greenway a public vote on a bond issue will be required. Most voters and taxpayers will require a plan in order to provide support.

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One possible source of funding for the city’s projects is the expiring Greenway bond issuance. Approved by voters in 2001 the Greenway bonds raised $6 million to purchase properties on and near Egan’s Creek. The city pays roughly $400,000 each year in debt service on these bonds and they will be paid off in April 2021. City Commissioners could choose to bring a bond issue to voters to fund conservation and other projects similar to the Greenway bonds in 2020. This would provide adequate time for the conservation plan to be developed and shared with the community. City residents have been vocal in recent years that any substantial capital debt obligation should be subject to voter approval. The issuance of new conservation bonds should be no different.

As we look ahead to a possible ballot issue we have to assess whether it would gain sufficient support to pass. Voters will look to their best interests and their confidence in our elected and appointed public officials. Those in the community who have spent recent months criticizing our officials should know that these same officials will be responsible for building community support for the conservation plan and its implementation. Harsh complaints and false assertions about our elected and appointed officials will undermine our ability to build support for a conservation plan and funding,

In short if we as a city are to move forward on conservation we will need a solid plan and broad community support. Anything less will not likely succeed.

Editor’s Note: Mike Spino serves as chair of the Fernandina Beach Historic District Council. He previously served on the City Board of Adjustment, Arts and Culture Nassau and the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee. Mike has provided citizen input for the selection of the City’s bond counsel. Mike also serves on the Board of the Friends of the Amelia Island Trail. Mike was General Manager of the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival for 2008 and 2009. He also served on the Festival Board and as President in 2012.

Mike and his wife have lived in downtown Fernandina Beach since 2006. Mike has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in History of Art from the Ohio State University.

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7 Responses to “We need a plan . . . ” – An opinion

  1. Dave Lott says:

    Excellent piece and suggestion Mike. One aspect of a 2020 referendum is that in that election cycle 3 of the 5 Commission seats will be up for election. I believe Comm. Chapman has already indicated that he is not going to seek reelection. Chip and Johnny are the other two seats but I believe Johnny is term limited so there will be at least two new commissioners going forward. For primarily this reason, I think the 2020 election results are going to be the key factor in deciding the future of Fernandina Beach. This was always my concern about the restructuring of the city election cycle of having a majority of the commission seats up in a single election. While I would hope that the discussion would be civil, respectful and based on facts, we have unfortunately seen that is not always the case.

  2. Robert Warner says:

    Mike Spino takes this to another level, understands our island reality, and presents an excellent way to move forward. It’s time.

  3. Gerald Decker says:

    Conservation is not the priority for the city. Spending taxpayer funds to buy land is not the function of city government unless the public safety is in danger…….this all just seems a way to shut down development…..hopefully the silent majority will see that and reject unwarranted expenditures, whether by bond or any other means. Thank you.

    • Robert Warner says:

      The Greenway would not be here if we didn’t believe in conservation as a priority on this island, Gerald.

    • Dave Lott says:

      Gerald, the priorities for a city should be set by its citizens and the City’s citizens have indicated it is a priority. How much is enough is the question. If a property owner is willing to sell their property for conservation, there is a free market for them to do so. If they want to develop the property according to the density and use for which it is zone, they are free to do so as well. There hasn’t been any eminent domain action in the City’s history of which I am aware.

    • Doug Leatherbury says:

      You must be pro development. We have had enough already. What do you want, something like Manhattan? What kind of a future is that for our children?

  4. Mary Anne Sharer says:

    Excellent piece and needs to be said over and over until it actually happens. In the 10 years we’ve been here we’ve noted that PLANNING is not a strong suit here, but it is never too late to start. And there are models all over the country as to how communities save land, including some where private citizens can donate. There are many on the island who would willingly do that to help keep what is so special about our island.

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