FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – The Fernandina Beach City Commission approved 3-2 to move forward with plans for the construction of a $400,000 park on a 6.5-acre site along Simmons Road.
The vote came after an hours-long, heated city commission meeting.
Right now the site has a lot of dense trees and shrubbery, but by next fall, the park will have a playground, picnic pavilion, trail, restrooms, and parking.
The nonprofit 8 Flags Playscapes, Inc., is behind the park.
“What we’re trying to do is go to another level of accessibility that exceeds ADA,” said Trey Warren, president of 8 Flags Playscapes, Inc.
By law, parks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but Warren said it doesn’t necessarily mean all components are wheelchair and handicap accessible.
“Someone that’s in a wheelchair can’t get up into it, if somebody has a disability on their physical capabilities they can’t get in there and be with their children or be with their friends in that element,” he said.
The quarter-mile nature trail planned for Simmons Road Park will be the first in the city that’s wheelchair and handicap accessible.
8 Flags said it will work with local biologists and conservationists to help reduce environmental impact.
“Really rely on them to help us create a park that meets the highest levels of standards as far as being environmentally sensitive and being cognizant of the natural surroundings that are important to people in this community,” said Benjamin Morrison, Vice President of 8 Flags Playscapes, Inc.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee initially recommended rethinking the project, which environmental groups have said would force the removal of too many trees.
A spokesperson for the Amelia Tree Conservancy told News4Jax the group favored a new city park but have concerns over land disturbance.
Member Margaret Kirkland shared with News4Jax the email the ATC sent to commissioners. It reads in part:
As a result of rapid and aggressive development on Amelia Island, this parcel on Simmons Rd. is now one of the few heavily forested parcels remaining of our canopy. Forested parcels not considered environmentally sensitive in 2011 are now rare, environmentally sensitive and fragile due to their isolation and limited size. The community very much needs this canopy for temperature moderation, storm water management, storm wind protection and prevention of erosion on our island. We also need it to maintain our sense of place, a major component of our quality of life and our economy. Furthermore, this parcel is part of the limited wildlife corridor and habitat remaining on the island. These are realities that Hopping Green & Sams seem totally unaware of in their analysis. We would like to see this playground built on a parcel that is of less environmental significance to the sustainability of our island, with less mature forest and wetland.
Following the commission’s decision, the ATC asked for the removal of dry ponds to make room for the park - instead of significant tree loss.
Commissioner Chip Ross spoke up in the meeting with concerns to make sure the park is ADA compatible. Ross asked 8 Flags Playscapes to put a focused effort on helping the city with compliance.
The NCFL Independent reports that the city will use recreational impact fees to fund the project -- though a state grant, which failed to secure any money, was expected to cover half the cost. Fees are calculated based on the heated square footage of a new home or an addition at a rate of $2.885, according to the building department.
The city has ordered more than $50,000 in equipment that is appropriate for toddlers to teens.
Construction is slated to begin in summer 2020.