Ending the Fish Island debacle

Today, The Record ran an editorial titled “Fish Island dock: End the debate”. Sometimes we agree with The Record’s opinions and sometimes we don’t.

In 2007, a Record editorial said the city’s decision must be based on facts, not emotions. On that point, we agree. Today’s editorial says “that’s still our view with a new twist. It’s time for the city to consider buying the property.”

That’s where they lose me.

The city (that’s those of us taxpayers who own property and businesses within the city limits of St. Augustine) is facing a $9 million lawsuit which was filed against us by the owners of the Fish Island property under the Bert Harris Act.

Because the developer is already allowed to construct a marina under the property’s 1998 rezoning, I think those who want us to continue to deny the owner that right are fighting a losing battle.

The city’s mayor, Joe Boles, who earns his living as an attorney, and the city attorney, Ron Brown, have made their feelings known, publicly and privately, that we really have nothing to “hang our hat on” in denying Fish Island Development, LLC to proceed with construction of their pier and boat slips.

We commend the city staff and legal team that have worked diligently to negotiate a smaller and less intrusive marina for Fish Island than was originally requested. They have earned my respect; especially since they are negotiating away rights that the property owner clearly possesses and have already received the approval of both the State and Army Corps of Engineers.

The owner originally asked for a 1,300 foot long dock with a 10 foot wide walkway and 100 slips that would accommodate boats of 50 feet in length or longer.

The proposed settlement reduces the width of the walkway to eight feet and restricts the dock to a maximum of 70 slips for residents and five public slips. In addition, the settlement requires that no fuel be sold on site and that the dock move closer to the Mickler-O’Connell Bridge.

The loudest public voices are allowing their emotions to govern their actions – not the facts; something that The Record and we have each written is ill advised. Some of these loud voices do not even reside or own property within the city limits and would therefore be unaffected by the financial impact on the city if we lose this lawsuit to the property owners in court.

Although the city could quiet the lawsuit by purchasing the property from the owners, as has been suggested by The Record, we are a city that may have the bond rating — but lack the capacity to make what would be a multi-million dollar acquisition.

Available “credit” is not the same thing as available “money”. Personally, I feel that the newspaper’s opinion is ironic given the fact that they have moved out of the city and are, themselves, reeling in delinquent debt — possibly facing the specter of their own bankruptcy.

The Fish Island property is on the tax rolls. We have enough government owned and otherwise tax-exempt property within the city’s taxing authority. Removing the potential windfall of tax revenue afforded by this project by going into debt to enable the city to purchase it is foolish, at best.

On the other hand, settlement of this lawsuit by accepting the negotiated agreement between the city and the property owners is the most plausible solution at hand and we recommend that the City Commission move forward in that regard at their July 13th meeting.

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