• Commissioner Danny Leeper provided comments on events that occurred at a meeting last week regarding the county’s strained relationship with the East Nassau Stewardship District over funding of recreational areas in Wildlight. “I did not come away from that meeting with confidence that the other side was ready to move on. … When you get turned down at the dance enough times, it’s time you look for another partner.” The issue will be revisited at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting. Photo by Pamela Bushnell/News-Leader

American Beach could be new CRA

The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners will begin public outreach toward designation of American Beach as a Community Redevelopment Area in a strategy to fund water and sewer services and historical preservation efforts for the community.

The board voted to take the action at its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 19. 

County Policy Planner Adrienne Burke gave a presentation on the historical value of American Beach, that community’s infrastructure needs, and what the CRA status could do for the community.

Burke pointed out that, although the community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the designation provides no funding to preserve historical sites within the community. Furthermore, the lack of sewer and water facilities in a community established in the 1930s is sufficient in itself to qualify the area as “blighted,” a state requirement to obtain CRA status.

CRAs work through tax increment financing. Once established, up to 95 percent of tax increases within a CRA can go into a trust fund to be used for improvements in the CRA’s master plan.

“The important thing about a CRA is that it has to be driven by the community,” said Burke. Burke shared that a similar effort was launched in 2001, but the process was not completed, saying: “My understanding is that there wasn’t 100-percent buy-in at that time.”

She noted renewed community interest from the residents of American Beach in looking at the process again. Costs to lay the qualifying groundwork for CRA status are estimated at $65,000 and would become part of a future county budget.
These costs might be reimbursed by the trust, once it is established.

In other business, the board scheduled a workshop for 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17, to discuss issues relating to conflicts between kayakers and other boaters in the use of space at both the Dee Dee Bartels and the Lofton Creek boat launches.

The county manager has received complaints that kayak groups are blocking access by other boaters.

Also on the Oct. 17 agenda will be a review of proposals for amendment to HB 1075, the legislation that created the East Nassau Stewardship District last year.

Conflict between the county and the new taxing district over funding for recreational areas within Wildlight continues.

In reference to last week’s special meeting to address the issue, Commissioner Danny Leeper said, “I didn’t walk away with a high degree of confidence from that meeting that the other side was ready to move on. I’m concerned that we need to move swiftly with whatever actions we’re going to take. … Here they (Rayonier) have their corporate headquarters just a few miles away and they send a lobbyist, an attorney, from Tallahassee to come speak on their behalf. I find that rather puzzling and not genuine.

“… What action can we take as a board? I’d like to request that by our next meeting we put together a list of benefits we have already agreed to that we can take away, reduce or modify, and also (look at) what it would take to implement a special county assessment on that district. … When you get turned down at the dance enough times, you need to look for another partner.”

Interim County Manager and County Attorney Michael Mullin advised that live streaming of Monday’s special meeting about the Stewardship District was interrupted by a “technical glitch” resulting in only part of the meeting being recorded.

Mullin reported the difficulties are now resolved and quipped, “There was no conspiracy and the Russians were not involved.”

The board voted unanimously to accept an offer of $110,000 it received for some vacant county property on the south end of the island near the entrance to the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. The county has owned it for an estimated 40 years. The property has been used primarily for parking vehicles, but reportedly is not necessary for that purpose. 

A resolution was also passed to assist the University of Florida in the construction of a new County Extension facility. No estimated costs were discussed.

UF/IFAS Nassau Extension Director Rebecca Jordi gave an overview of programs provided through the County Extension partnership, including numerous awards received this year by staff for innovation and leadership. The Extension is a partnership between state, federal and county governments to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public. The University of Florida first established an extension branch in Nassau County in 1915. Programs include 4-H and education programs on natural resources, agriculture and family consumerism.

An award to the county Roads and Bridges Department by their state association as 2018 Team Project of the Year for their work at the Swallowfork subdivision was acknowledged by the board.

The meeting was attended by Mullin, county commissioners Pat Edwards, Leeper, George Spicer and Justin Taylor, Planning and Development Director Taco Pope, Public Works Director Becky Heirs-Bray, and budget director Justin Stankiewicz. Commissioner Steve Kelley was absent.

Of an audience of about 25 citizens, only one individual spoke to the board about an issue tabled for another session.

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