By Kevin Harris, 1-5-23
Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross initiated a Tuesday, 1-3-23 Special Meeting Workshop looking primarily at ongoing questions over parking issues on Amelia Island. The workshop preceded Tuesday night’s regular City Commission Meeting by an hour, and was based in part on the findings from a comprehensive report by Walker Consultants, presented to the Commission in August, 2022.
There are currently 1,600 parking spaces on Amelia island, though only about half of them are maintained by the City of Fernandina Beach. The rest are maintained by the County, and just under 200 by the State (at Fort Clinch).
According to the Walker Report, the Sea Side parking lot is full 75% of the time; the Main Beach lot is nearly full 50% of the time; the Dolphin Street lot is nearly full just 25% of the time; while the Peter’s Point, Scott’s Road and Burney Point lots are heavily used just two percent of the time. “On the island itself, of the 1,600 parking spaces, there’s plenty of parking spaces,” Commissioner Ross said.
Though the area receives 1.4 million visitors annually using beach parking, the distribution is not neat or even, as the above figures demonstrate. Good luck trying to find parking on July Fourth, but many lots on the island have plenty of spots the rest of the year.
The Walker Report shows that the area’s 1.4 million visitors are made up of local residents – 13,500 according to the last census (but only 60% are full time residents), along with visitors to the 1,200 hotel rooms and 1,000 vacation rentals.
After discussing some of the key facts from the Walker Report, Commissioner Ross then asked whether there should be a limit on beach capacity (crowds), and stated that according to a recent University of Florida study, one thousand users per mile of beach is optimal. If that figure is accepted and agreed upon, then “clearly we have enough parking,” Ross said, based on the number of spaces currently available.
Commissioner Ross then told the Commission that the Walker Study was recommending the establishment of an Amelia Island Parking Authority, and to have paid beach parking throughout the island. With the Amelia County Parking Authority, both the city and the county would give up their parking authority to that entity.
Not only did Ross say that he is “adamantly opposed” to the Parking Authority idea, every other commission member did as well. As for paid beach parking, Ross added that, “I don’t think the residents of Fernandina Beach should pay for more parking,” and said if they did the paid parking it should only be for non-city residents.
City Commissioner James Antun pushed the idea that everybody pay for parking, but giving a rebate to full-time residents to subsidize that parking for them. The city attorney then confirmed its legality.for
Vice-Mayor David Sturges opined the following about paid beach parking: “If we have paid beach parking for people that aren’t the residents, they (residents) feel it’s only a matter of time before they would too be paying beach parking no matter what. And I can understand their concern.”
The next topic of discussion was a recommendation by the Corps of Engineers to erect sand dunes at Main Beach to prevent flooding. The dunes in question would be 15 to 20 feet tall.
City Commissioner Darron Ayscue opposes the idea. “I’m not interested in pursuing that,” he said. “There are a lot of people who pull up to the beach right there, there’s a lot of people who sit on those benches… those benches and those parking spots are almost always taken. Someone’s almost always sitting there in their car watching the sunrise. I wouldn’t be interested in that. I don’t see it as a viable option,” he added.
Commissioner Antun said the dunes would be an eyesore, but wanted to know what the cost versus benefit would be to have them, to which City Engineer Charlie George stood up and pointed out that the Corps of Engineers has an agreement with the city. The agreement states that if they put sand dunes at that specific location and a storm wipes out the beach there, the Corps will replace the sand, but without the dunes, the city will be responsible for replacing the beach. “So be aware that if there’s a breach, and we don’t have dunes there, we’re going to be on the hook for that money.”
The Commissioners discussed possibly erecting the dunes as needed, meaning before an approaching hurricane hits, then removing them, before they moved on to another topic. (editor’s note: sounds implausible- checking …)
The Walker Report also recommended putting a parking garage at the Recreation Center. Ross said he opposes the idea, while Commissioner Antun said, “If ever we were to have a parking garage on the island, that’s not the space for it.”
Other topics briefly touched on before adjournment included adding a bike lane from downtown to the beach on Atlantic Avenue, and narrowing the road slightly at Seaside Park to allow a few more parking spaces. The BOCC regular meeting immediately followed the workgroup.
Agenda and links for main discussion/reference materials:
Documents Included in Packet
001 – Comp Plan Elements Beach Parking
002 – 6.1988 UF Beach Access Plan for Amelia Island
003 – USACE Original Agreement 2007
004 – Letter From USACE concerning Beach access
005 – Resolution 2020-87 USACE update
006 – EDSA Beach Harmonization Plan 6
007 – Walker Study Phase 1
008 – Walker Study Phase 2
009 – Walker Study Phase 3 Draft
010 -Walker Study Phase 4 Draft
011 – Beach parking Data: 2021 2022
012 – Capacity of Beach Parking and Accesses in City Limits
013 – Management Plan Seaside Park 20 November 2003
014 -Grant Award Agreement Sea Side Park 1998
015 – Seaside Park Parking Inventory 2016
016 – City of FB Population Estimates and Projections 2020
017 – Tourism and Seasonal Population Data – 2021
018 – City Share County Ad Valorem orum Taxes 2017 to 2020
019 – Short Term Rentals
020 – TDC Estimate Financial Support City 2021
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State
Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, having worked for the LA Times and
Newhall Signal. He is now also a musician and videographer, and splits his time living
outside of Salt Lake City, Ventura County, CA, and South Florida.