By Matthew Decker
During the September 13th meeting of the Fernandina Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Committee members voted 4 – 3 to recommend to the City Commission that no lease agreement should be pursued for the Pocket Park on Centre and North 3rd Streets. The City Commission of Fernandina Beach will have the final say on whether to pursue a lease for the Pocket Park or not. They also discussed the Beach Harmonization Plan
Pocket Park Lease Discussion
The Pocket Park is near Amelia Island Coffee off of Centre Street. It provides an area for locals and tourists to sit and relax while in downtown Fernandina. The park is privately owned by Jon Lasserre and previously has been leased to the city for $1 per year with 30 days termination notice required. The city performs landscape maintenance and installs benches donated by community members. As part of that lease agreement, the city had agreed to block vehicular access from North 3rd St. Mr. Lasserre pointed out that there have been problems with contractors and other individuals parking in the grass of the park. He also noted that the city had failed to sufficiently block vehicle access off of North 3rd St. If the city opts to continue leasing the park, Mr. Lasserre recommended a fence to block access. Mr. Lasserre is seeking a new agreement with the city, whereby the city covers the costs of taxes and pays more for use of the park. Mr. Lasserre presented three lease options for the park:
Option A: This option presents the city with a one-year lease with annual renewals for $20,000 per year. The lease is terminable by the landlord with 60 days notice and can be marketed as available to lease.
Option B: This option presents the city with a five-year lease with an option for five more years for $100,000 per year. This lease is non-terminable and the lease cannot be marketed as available.
Option C: The city does not pursue a lease, and the landlord looks elsewhere for leasing opportunities.
Chairwoman Cheryl Grant questioned why Option B costs five times as much as Option A per year. Mr. Lasserre answered that the cost differential was due to the non-terminable nature of Option B.
Committee member Philip Chapman championed the Pocket Park, pointing out that residents use it frequently to drink coffee and enjoy the historic downtown. He stated, “It’s a part of downtown Fernandina… That Pocket Park is really important to people. It’s part of the culture downtown.” Chapman also pointed out that the city lost another pocket park across Centre St. that is now an unmaintained vacant lot.
Committeewoman Shelia Cocchi agreed with Chairwoman Grant affirming that the Pocket Park is, “Nice to have…but there are other needs that are more important or urgent.”
Chairwoman Grant motioned to recommend to the City Commission that Option C, no lease, be adopted. The Advisory Committee voted 4 – 3 in favor of this recommendation with Committee members Camera, Chapman, and Mountjoy objecting. The City Commission will make the final determination to lease or not lease the Pocket Park. Mr. Lasserre summarized that if the City chooses not to pursue the lease deal, then other entities will be presented the lease options, including the Tourist Development Council and the County Commission.
Beach Harmonization Master Plan
The Beach Harmonization Master Plan, which seeks to completely redo infrastructure at three beaches within the city (Main, North, and Seaside) and additional beaches in the county, has never been presented to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Mayor Lednovich stated that he had told EDSA, the company designing the beach updates, to present to the (City) Advisory Committee twice. Interim Director of Parks and Recreation, Scott Mikelson, said he would follow up with EDSA to have them present the plan to the Advisory Committee.
Parks and Recreation Master Plan
The Advisory Committee discussed the Master Plan for Parks and Recreation. Chairwoman Grant brought up that the plan was developed in 2015 based off a questionnaire which 480 people responded to. She expressed her concern that the plan had outdated predictions for population growth and was incorrect in other areas. The Advisory Committee proposed presenting the shortcomings of the Master Plan to the new Parks and Recreation Director in hopes that an update might be pursued. The Advisory Committee then expressed concern over its own usefulness as they had presented recommended Master Plan changes previously that had not been adopted by the Parks and Recreation Department. Committeeman Camera, asked Mayor Lednovich to express what his believed role is for the Parks Advisory Committee at their next meeting in October.
Central Park in Fernandina Beach received a $500,000 donation to replace the play structures. The donor expressed the desire to have the updates completed by February 2023. The Interim Director of Parks and Recreation, Scott Mikelson, said that the equipment had been purchased and that they were on track to finish the park in early February 2023.
The Interim Director Mikelson, attempted to dissuade rumors that the Parks and Recreation Department plans to take over the golf course. He explained that the Parks and Recreation Department may offer “managerial support” in the form of the Parks and Recreation Director to the golf course. He stated that this managerial support might be offered if the golf course director leaves his position. Committeeman Chapman pointed out that if the golf course manager leaves, then the Parks and Recreation Director may be running both her department and the golf course. Interim Director Mikelson asserted that the finances would be separate by law even if the same manager ran both entities.
Matthew Decker is a Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, having set up some of the technical and social media infrastructure. He also developed sourcing for some of its municipal government and business content. He is an Aerospace Engineer by trade. He has worked in NGO’s performing civic activities. He originally hails from Ventura, CA.