Monday evening, the stoic St Augustine Beach Mayor, Gary Snodgrass, announced to a room full of angry city residents that the controversial community garden constructed on the corner of “A” Street and Second Avenue, “was a well-intentioned effort to improve our community”. Woops.
Snodgrass has had his hands full at the beachside community this year; a once sleepy crossroads where the most exciting thing that ever happened was a car getting stuck in the soft sand or a drunk walking out into traffic along A1A.
St Augustine Beach is becoming a Peyton Place with neighbors stalking other neighbors, a seventeen-member police department repeatedly embroiled in scandal, and now a community garden that has turned the past couple of commission meetings into something akin to a Jerry Springer episode.
On top of St Johns County property taxes, the residents pay additional taxes to cover the cost of operating the city — something north of $10 million each year. The county already provides duplicate or similar services — both in the City of St Augustine Beach and in other parts of St Johns County. When former Chief Richard Hedges resigned under pressure recently, many were calling for the Sherriff’s Office to take over all law enforcement services in the city. Doing so would have done away with the need for a separate police department and saved the city millions of dollars — as it is today, the department still exists, but has been clipped by more than half.
The mayor is demanding that residents respect the gardeners in their neighborhood, something that no doubt would be welcomed but doesn’t appear very likely. From the point of view of some who live across from the fenced in gardens, they never asked the gardeners to set up in the first place — some have reported that they had no idea the city would even consider such a thing until it was already a done deal.
Under a contract with the City of St Augustine Beach, the gardeners collect a membership fee for those who would like to set up a planter-box. The intent was for those who had no suitable space on their own property, like the many condominium owners at the beach, to have a place where they could grow their own vegetables, spices and such.
In reality, the urban-rural mixed use has some adjoining property owners fed up with what they see as an intrusion of their privacy, the addition of vehicular traffic along the street, and, of course, the unwelcome source of the odor of manure and compost where there was once pleasant ocean breezes.
In what the mayor is calling a “compromise”, neighbors are again being asked to be patient. They are being asked to be civil, if not friendly, as the gardeners complete growing cycles already in progress. Soon the city will pay to assist the vagabond gardeners to relocate to property owned by the county at Ron Parker Memorial Park — not owned by the city.
That way if the residents revolt and decide to abolish the charter city government at the beach, at least the gardeners won’t have to move again.